Local communities speak out against financing of the Agua zarca project by FMO
With a generating capacity of 22 megawatts, a 300 metre-long
reservoir and a 3 kilometre long diversion channel between the dam and the turbines,
Agua Zarca - being constructed by the Honduran corporation DESA - is a relatively small hydroelectric
project. But for the local Lenca - indigenous peoples living in Río Blanco, between the departments of Intibucá and Santa
Bárbara in western Honduras - it is big enough: the project threatens to dessicate the river Gualcarque and therewith the communal farm lands. The river is an important resource for swimming,
washing and fishing, with important cultural and spiritual value.
In 2015, the project was relocated to the opposite side of the Gualcarque river. Therefore, it is no longer to be built on indigenous farm lands, although these may continue to be affected by dessication. In October 2015, construction on the west side started. After the murder of Berta Caceres and other violent incidents in the beginning of 2016, the project's funding was suspended. A fact-finding mission has been sent by the lenders, whose findings are expected to be published in September 2016. FMO and Finnfund declared to withdraw from the project.
company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) was created in 2008
solely for the project Agua Zarca, although community members in Río
Blanco remember the first studies for the dam project dating back to
2006, when the indigenous local population and COPINH immediately
In 2009 DESA
took part in a public renewable energy solicitation bid, first for a
project of only 6 MW, together with 48 other bids. In August 2010, 47
projects were granted concessions (with Agua Zarca still only
accounting for 14.46 MW). DESA later on concluded a contract with the
National Electricity Company, ENEE. Now the planned production
capacity is 21,7 MW.
renewable energy bid has been criticized by indigenous and ecological movements, who claim it was manipulated by the private energy sector, that it allows the
privatization of natural resources including rivers, and that
consultations with the affected communities were not carried out.
Construction began in 2011. At the beginning of 2013 the German
company Voith Hydro (in a joint venture with Siemens) was contracted
to providing the turbines.
majority of the local population have been protesting against the dam
ever since becoming aware of it, and in an assembly convened by the
municipal mayor of Intibucá, Martiniano Dominguez, the project was
rejected completely. However this did not stop the mayor from signing
the contract with DESA.
From 1st April of 2013 onwards there has been massive resistance in the area,
including an ongoing road blockade, in spite of several violent
evictions by the recently positioned military and police force, and
massive repression and criminalization of the protesters and COPINH
On 15th July 2013, soldiers positioned inside the company´s logistics
headquarters opened fire against peaceful local protesters and, with
numerous shots from a distance of just two meters, killed the local
indigenous leader Tomás García, heavily wounded his son Allan
García and injured others. The responsible soldier has only been
sentenced for 30-90 days imprisonment, after an appeal by COPINH that
followed the previous acquittal. The road blockade was maintained and
kept DESA from accessing the site.
2015, construction suddenly began on the opposite (west) side of the
river. Without being properly informed beforehand, villagers and
COPINH became aware of the relocation of the project. The dam is now
no longer being built on the lands of the village of La Tejera, the
community most fiercely against the project. However, the river will
be detoured for 3 kms, exactly where La Tejera is situated. The
project's website posted an outline of the plan in January.
the dam project have received many death threats over the years,
especially members of COPINH and their leader and co-founder Berta
Cáceres. In the night of 2nd March 2016, Berta Cáceres
was murdered in her house. On 2nd May 2016, DESA's manager for social and environmental affairs was arrested as part of the investigation into the murder. As a reaction, principal financier FMO (Nederlandse Financierings-Maatschappij voor Ontwikkelingslanden) and co-funder Finnfund declared to seek to exit the project.
what must happen
Following the death of Berta Caceres and the ongoing human rights violations all financiers (FMO, Finnfund and CABEI) must immediately terminate their support for the project and leave.
Many of the indigenous local population fear for
their future and the future of their children. Although the
relocation of the project prevents further destruction of their farm
lands, they fear for desiccation of their lands. Since an unknown
amount of water will be channeled, the village of La Tejera (one of
the bigger villages of the area) may loose its access to water.
Flowing water has a deep spiritual value for the
Lenca population; damming and stopping this water flow means putting
a barrier to the life of the river. Spiritual ceremonies are
regularly held at the riverbank, which cannot be performed if the
river will run dry. There has been an agreement between the mayor and
DESA, in which DESA promises a couple of jobs (without detailing the
number or the payment), as well as street building and maintenance
and partial electrification (the connection of two communities to the
main line, but not the electrification of the households). However
the community rejects these token gestures and claims that these are
responsibilities of the state.
Especially the community of La Tejera, in which
protest is widespread, has been socially affected by the project and
has to pay a high price for their opposition. Crime and violence has
risen since the project began. Infamous hitmen have been reported to
be present and several villagers have been attacked and murdered
under unclear circumstances. Also, conflict between communities has
increased. Inhabitants of other communities are reported to be paid
by DESA to guard the construction site with machetes.
The heavy militarization of the region and the
constant intimidation (the community reports gun shots at night,
arbitrary house inspections and detentions, sexual harassment and
death threats), not to mention the killing and injuring of opponents
by the military in July 2013, creates a general climate of violence
The opposition against the Agua Zarca project is seen
as the most important struggle of all struggles COPINH is involved
in. In their defense of indigenous land against 50 other
megaprojects, Agua Zarca is symbolic. 'If they can build this dam,
they can build anything they want', a member of COPINH stated.
For the building of the
300 metre-long water reservoir, the diversion channel, the machine
house and new streets to the construction site, many trees are being
torn down. Several villagers fear the effect this may have on the
vulnerable climate. The peasant communities are fully dependent on
their corn, bean, vegetable and coffee fields. Besides, by
interrupting the flow of the river, fish will be hindered from moving
There have been constant
human rights violations connected with the imposition of the Agua
Zarca dam, especially the right of indigenous peoples to be consulted
(free prior informed consent, FPIC) and to their land and territory,
the right to free expression and to assembly, the right to physical
integrity, the right to food, the right to water and the right to
life, among others. Although the project was relocated, previous
construction has damaged farm land, for which villagers not have been
compensated. Both DESA and investors point out communal meetings
which have been held, but the fact that DESA organised and
facilitated these meetings disqualifies them as FPIC, as described in
The state is not only failing to respect human rights
and to assure that the company obeys them, but is actively supporting
DESA by sending in the military and police force. They are based at
the company´s facilities, drive in the company's cars, and help out
with military equipment and intimidation of the population. This
creates the impression that the company has command over the military
and police force. Maybe it is no coincidence that the director of
DESA, David Castillo, studied in the West Point Military Academy of
the US and served as the assistant of the director of the Honduran
Army Intelligence. He has also worked as the Technical Director of
the Honduran Energy Company ENEE right before joining DESA. Moreover,
he was prosecuted for three different corruption charges while he
worked for the state.
The project implementation was accompanied by the
militarization of the area, local opponents are subject to arbitrary
house inspections, detentions, several people have been subject to
death threats (the COPINH coordinator Berta Cáceres and the other
COPINH members Tomás Gomez and Aureliano Molina, also Francisco
Javier Sánchez, Lucio Sánchez and others).
On 24th May 2013, Berta Cáceres and Tomás
Gomez were arbitrarily arrested in a military checkpoint close to the
project, accused of illegally carrying a weapon - which turned out to
be a military weapon which was being put in the truck bed ("paila"
of the pick-up) at the checkpoint. Since then, Berta Cáceres has
been subject to legal restrictions ("medidas cautelares"),
even though the case has been temporarily suspended in the court.
On July 15th 2013, military personnel
positioned inside the company´s logistics headquarters opened fire
against peaceful local protesters and, with numerous shots from two
metres distance, directly targeted and killed the local indigenous
leader Tomás García (who, as COPINH members confirm, had earlier
been offered money for stopping the protest, which he had refused),
heavily wounded his son Allan García and injured others.
On 2nd March 2016,
Berta Cáceres was murdered in her house. Over
the years she received numerous death threats. Also, she had insisted
on protection by state forces, which the state refused to provide.
The murder led to demonstrations in many parts of the world.
Lenca women, who are usually responsible of providing
the water for the family and washing the clothes would probably suffer most
from a restricted access to the river which for some represents the only water
source. Also, there has been harrasment of female protesters.
May 02, 2016, Arrests made over killings Berta Caceres
On 2nd May 2016, the Honduran police arrested four people as part of the investigiation into the murder of Berta Cáceres. One of them is DESA's manager for social and environmental affairs.
Apr 20, 2016, European tour of COPINH delegation starts
Mar 16, 2016, European funders suspend funding for Agua Zarca project
Following the murder of Nelson García FMO and subsequently Finnfund suspend their financing for the Agua Zarca project. www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-bosshard/european-funder-suspend-s_b_9479642.html
Mar 03, 2016, Berta Caceres, leader of COPINH, murdered
Thursday March 3th, Berta Cáceres was assassinated by gunmen, who shot her four times inside her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. Gustavo Castro Soto, a Mexican human rights activist, was also wounded in the attack, and he is now a protected witness.
Berta Cáceres was the coordinator and co-founder (in 1993) of the indigenous organisation Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), a human rights defender, and leader of the Lenca Indigenous community. She has been repeatedly threatened with her life for her opposition against the Agua Zarca Dam, complaining of death threats from the police, the army and landowners's groups. Last year, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission had ordered protective measures for Berta Cáceres, but she was not under protection this Thursday.
In 2015, Berta Cáceres accepted the Goldman Environmental Prize for her role in fighting the Agua Zarca dam and her work to defend the Gualcarque River. She fought against the dam by filling legal complaints, organising community meetings, and bringing the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
Feb 20, 2016, March against the dam in the region of Santa Barbara, fierce repression of police, military and private guards
More than a hundred people were on their way to San Francisco de Ojuera, to march to the construction site from the side on Santa Barbara. Before arriving in San Fransisco, the busses were stopped, people were hauled away from the busses, intimidated and threatened. Arriving in San Fransisco took five hours of walking.
Apr 06, 2014, Rising violence in Río Blanco
Another attack on April 6th
led to two dead and many heavily injured persons in Río Blanco. According to the
indigenous organization COPINH, five people who are known as dam supporters -
one of them a known hitman in the region - attacked two members of COPINH who
were on their way to the field work. In the following struggle, those two and
others were heavily injured, two of the attackers died. COPINH decidedly
repudiate the media campaign which aims to criminalize COPINH and
describe the situation as if COPINH members had attacked two peaceful dam
workers. Ever since opposition against the Agua Zarca started, the indigenous
protest has been criminalized and repressed. as a result, communities have been divided and
violence has increased dramatically.
Apr 01, 2014, Celebrating one year of resistance
April 1st, members of the indigenous council of Río Blanco, who are part of the
bigger indigenous organization COPINH, celebrate their first anniversary of
resistance against Agua Zarca. A year ago, the communities had started a road
block to hinder the machines from accessing to the construction site. In the
event, they also remembered their comrades who have died and who have goten
heavily injured as consequence of their peacful opposition. The occasion was
also used to formulate a letter in which they demanded that the dutch bank FMO
should quit financing the project.
Mar 05, 2014, Murder attempt on Dam opponent
March 5th, María Santos Domínguez, a leader in the local indigenous council of
Río Blanco and member of the indigenous organization COPINH, one of the
most visible opponents of Agua Zarca, was attacked on her way home by seven men
who were armed with machetes. Her husband and 12-year-old son, who came to her rescue, were attacked as well, leaving all three of them heavily injured. One of the attackers, Mr. Fausto Domínguez, died as a result from injuries resulting from the attack. Violence has dramatically risen since the imposition of the
Feb 07, 2014, FMO confirms support for Agua Zarca
Dutch development bank FMO has confirmed in a letter to BankTrack that it will support the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, this despite the widespread local and international opposition agaisnt this project.
Jan 08, 2014, IFC CAO confirms CAMIF no longer investing in DESA
In the court audience the 20th of September, the coordinator of COPINH Berta
Cáceres was convicted with a preventive detention and the other two indigenous
leaders Aureliano Molina and Tomas Membreno were dictaded substitute measures
(not returning to the Río Blanco region where the dam is being built, reporting
every second week to the police station and remaining under custody of the
lawyer). Also, the judge ordered eviction of the road block which the indigenous
people of Río Blanco had been maintaining since the 1st of April. The results of
the court audience are exactly what the company DESA and the Attorney General
had asked for, falsely accusing the three indigenous leaders of usurpation,
co-actions and continuous damage in prejudice of DESA. While this means a hard
stroke for the indigenous movement, COPINH and the local population remain
determined in their struggle against the hidroelectric project. Also, national
and international solidarity is raising.
Sep 17, 2013, Court case against Copinh leaders pending
There are no results yet of the hearing against the
members of COPINH Tomás Gomez, Berta Cáceres, and Aureliano Molina which took
place the 12th and 13th of September.The judge will render her verdict after the
third hearing, which will be held Friday, September 20th. There are four total
charges against the three, not all of which are being heard at this time.The
government is requesting that the three be imprisoned.
police presence in the north of the department of Intibucá, including the
village of Rio Blanco, has increased. So have government threats and harassment
of those resisting invasion of their lands. Another COPINH member was arrested
last week on charges of being a danger to the well-being of the
Sep 12, 2013, Start of trial against three leaders of Copinh
First day of court cases against three leaders of Copinh, charged with inflicting damage on property of DESA and disturbing public order.
Sep 05, 2013, Fake agreement between company, government and make believe indigenous representatives
In the beginning of September, in the forefront of the trial against
three COPINH-members, DESA signed an agreement with indigenous representatives
of Río Blanco, monitored by the Honduran president Porfirio Lobo. COPINH points
out that this is just another insidious strategy, since the ones who signed
this mutual consent are selfproclaimed leaders which don´t actually represent
the local population, which has expressed their categorical rejection of the
project numerous times
Sep 02, 2013
On 12th and 13th August
2013, the court audience against the three COPINH leaders Berta Cáceres
and the other COPINH members Tomás Gomez and Aureliano Molina took
place. They are falsely accused by DESA of usurpation, co-actions and
continuous damage in prejudice of DESA, as well as of being
the intellectual assassins of a community member. This all is part of a
campaign of criminalization of the protest which could lead to the
politically motivated imprisonment.
the hearing in August, the accused must report every week to the court,
and are not able to enter the area of the incidents (i.e. the dam
protest site). The next and final hearing is scheduled for the 12th and
13th of September. See report here.
Central American Bank for Economic Integration
- international -
The CABEI is a regional multilateral bank, established in 1960 with the goal to promote the integration between the founding members: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
The following companies are involved in Agua Zarca hydro project:
COPRECA is a Honduran construction company. They operated as main constructor of the project until the end of 2014.
Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA)
Founded in Honduras in 2008, DESA "was formed with the purpose of taking advantage of all hydroelectric resources" in the country. The lead company behind the Agua Zarca dam.
Hear from SOA Watch activantes in Honduras as they talk to people on the ground, and help bring to light the reality of the political and social turmoil in the post-coup nation that has come to be known as the "most violent in the world".