By Mary Durran, Latin America Programs Officer
The trial of former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández for drug trafficking and related weapons offences is set to begin on February 12 in New York. Meanwhile, over 3,000 kilometers away, communities in the lush green Aguán Valley of Honduras are still grappling with his legacy of corruption.
This week, Hernández’s associate, Lenir Pérez, was scrambling to have the licence for the Los Pinares mine renewed for another 30 years, even as protestors blocked the road to Guapinol, calling on the government to close the highly polluting operation for good.
“It’s a great pity to have to resort to a roadblock,” said community leader Juana Zúñiga, one of the faces of the Stand for the Land campaign being run by Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada. She stood in front of a portrait of Carlos Escaleras, an environmentalist who was assassinated in 1997 for defending this very region from African oil palm plantations owned by Lenir Pérez’s father-in-law, Miguel Facussé.
Zúñiga added, “We cannot continue to live like this. We have to think twice before eating a fish from the river here. And there have been three unexplained miscarriages by women this year, too.”
Opposition to the Los Pinares mine has taken a heavy toll on villagers. Three leaders were assassinated during 2023 alone; eight leaders were unjustly detained for more than two years; and 32 have been criminalized on trumped up charges.
The mine is linked to the legacy of Hernández. in 2013, he was president of the Congress when it approved a decree reducing the size of Montaña Botaderos – Carlos Escaleras National Park by 217 hectares, in order to allow mining concessions in both the community of Guapinol and the neighbouring department of Olancho.
The repeal of decree 252-2013, which fraudulently shrunk the boundaries of the park, is at the heart of the struggle today in the departments of Colón and Olancho, which share the Botaderos mountain.
Unfortunately, this struggle is not likely to be resolved very quickly. The community has unanimously called for the cancellation of the Guapinol concession at several public consultations, including the most recent one on December 9, 2023. Yet, Tocoa mayor Adán Funes tried to impose a new consultation on January 31 in a neighbouring pro-mining community. The local courts upheld an injunction obtained by the Guapinol community to stop the new consultation, which has been postponed, at least for the moment.
“Our struggle is strengthened by your solidarity,” said Lesley Vanegas of the Coordination of Popular Organizations of the Aguán, calling on Canadians to sign our letter to the Honduran ambassador to Canada, asking her government to listen to the people of Guapinol. “This is a critical moment to ensure that the licence is not renewed.”