By Sharon McCord
For many years the Honduran indigenous group, Lenca, has suffered human rights abuses including land and natural resources exploitation by illegal development projects as reported in the New York Times and other media sources. Under international law, indigenous groups must give informed consent before projects that affect their lands can proceed. But this consent has been violated.
COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), a grassroots organization, had fought on behalf of the indigenous people under the leadership of Berta Cáceres until her brutal murder in March 2016. Cáceres halted the Aqua Zarca Dam from being built on the Rio Gualcarque. This river is held to be sacred and is central to Lenca’s livelihood.
Since Cáceres’ murder, Tomás Gómez Membreño as General Coordinator of COPINH continues the struggle for the Lenca people.
At a recent forum at Walker Community Church in south Minneapolis, Gómez Membreño spoke passionately, through an interpreter, about the issues the Honduran people are facing.
Since the Coup of 2009 installed a corrupt government, violence and oppression have increased for the Lenca people and COPINH,said Gómez Membreño. He described death squads, assassinations, and oppression of social movements.
In addition, 50 illegal development projects such as mining and large-scale wind power have been imposed on the Lenca. Many projects are funded by U.S. tax-payer dollars. The money ends up in the pockets of the military and police for “protecting and defending” the companies that build the illegal projects from the COPINH resistance. In the end, very little of the money benefits the Honduran people.
Gómez Membreño outlined what he wants to happen. He wants to stop all 50 illegal development projects and allow the Honduran people autonomous and inclusive community development. He wants U.S. citizens to pressure the U. S. government to stop the funding for such projects and to stop supporting a corrupt regime that strips away the rights of the Honduran people. He wants the entire area to be demilitarized, all violence to end and the indigenous spirituality honored.
He wants the Honduran people to take action, to impose their own rules, see what they can do collectively. In a calling to Honduran people for action, Gomez Membreño said “Berta didn’t just die, she multiplied in all the young boys and girls.”
What can you do? Learn more at www.witnessforpeace.org. Tell President Obama and Secretary Kerry to stop funding the illegal projects.
Sharon McCord is a volunteer with the Sierra Club North Star Chapter Communications Team.