International investors are withdrawing all funding from a controversial hydroelectric dam project in Honduras that had become increasingly untenable due to several murders among those who had opposed it.
In Honduras, at least 124 campaigners opposing mines, dams, logging and tourist resorts have been murdered since 2010, making it the most deadly country in the world for environmental and land activists. Forty percent of the environmental defenders killed in 2014 were indigenous people trying to defend their land and water sources.
A number of people who opposed the dam project at Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque river have been killed over the years – allegedly by state-sanctioned military death squads. But it was the murder of one environmental activist, Berta Cáceres, that brought fierce international notoriety and condemnation to this project.
Three financial institutions had pledged loans worth $44 million for the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque river. The bulk of the loans came from the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (Cabei), which announced in a public statement that it had stopped loan payments.
“The bank is no longer funding the project. Nor is there any intention to further invest in the project. Each bank is going to have their own exit strategy. Our bank stopped all disbursements,” spokesman Juan Mourra said in a statement, reported recently in the Guardian.
The other two investors — Dutch bank FMO and Finnish finance company FinnFund — suspended their loans in May of last year. In identical statements, the financial firms said they “intend to exit as soon as possible. However, project financing being a complicated field, many aspects and issues have to be cleared from contractual and responsibility perspectives.”
The divestment comes over a year after the death of renowned environmental activist Berta Cáceres. She was killed in March 2016 after receiving multiple death threats linked to her campaign, the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh).
The activist group, which said the dam would compromise their access to water, food and medicine and threaten the Lenca people’s traditional way of life, continued to demand that investors withdraw and make reparations for the human rights violations linked to the project. Cáceres’ coworker, Nelson García, was slain two weeks after her death.
The murders became a symbol and a rallying cry for indigenous and environmental activists around the world, who say the world’s most marginalized people frequently have to pay for projects that are supposed to bring economic and social development. While hydroelectric dams are effective ways to meet the energy and water needs of areas across Latin America, activists say they have displaced indigenous groups, endangered species of fish and other animals and flooded forests and farmlands.
Activists who oppose such projects in Honduras receive no help from the government, which has taken numerous steps to prevent a fair investigation into Cáceres’ murder. The Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act, introduced into the US Congress this past March, calls for the US to cut off security assistance to the government of Honduras until it displays signs of an improved justice system and human rights.