Defenders of the Guapinol Waters (Honduras)

Defenders of the Guapinol Waters: more than two years in pre-trial detention for defending the water and territory in Honduras

Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, José Avelino Cedillo, Orbin Naún Hernández, Kelvin Alejandro Romero, Arnold Javier Alemán, Ever Alexander Cedillo, Daniel Márquez and Jeremías Martínez Díaz are environmental activists who are also members of the Comité Municipal de Defensa de los Bienes Comunes y Públicos de Tocoa (Municipal Committee of the Defense of Common and Public Goods in Tocoa – CMDBCP in Spanish) in Honduras. These activists have been opposing the commissioning of an iron oxide mine in the “Montaña de Botaderos Carlos Escaleras” National Park, previously known as Montaña de Botaderos (Which translates to Botaderos Mountain).

The 8 activists find themselves in pre-trial detention for more than two years now, under the presumed charges of aggravated arson and unjust deprivation of liberty. Although in March 2021 the Committee against Arbitrary Detentions of the United Nations urged the state of Honduras to release the eight activists and defined their detention as “illegal and arbitrary”, last month of July, the Public Ministry asked to extend the pre-trial detention by another six months.

This mining project, which is opposed by the CMDBCP, is driven by Inversiones los Pinares (Investment group commissioning the making of the mine), formerly known as Emco Mining. Its located in a protected area since 2011, and said area was shrunk in order to accommodate Emco Mining’s project. The activists fear that the commission of this mine can gravely affect its immediate environment and the rivers around it, specifically the San Pedro and Guapinol river.

In 2018, after Inversiones Los Pinares started the constructions of a highway to access “Montaña de Botaderos Carlos Escaleras” National Park, the waters of the Guapinol river became muddy, and it was no longer available for the use of the Guapinol community. August of that year, a camp was set up to block the aforementioned highway, which was violently cleared by authorities.

The charges presented against the eight imprisoned activists as well as other members of the CMDBCP are related to incidents that occurred during the timeframe in which the camp was being set on the highway.

Criminalization, violence and repression in Honduras

According to the Comité Municipal de Defensa de los Bienes Comunes y Públicos de Tocoa,the Honduran penal code does not provide preventive detention for the crimes of which the eight defenders deprived of liberty are accused. In this sense, the organization denounces a “clear violation of due process”, consolidated in the December 18th hearing, in which, again, the activists’ request for freedom was denied.

The CMDBCP explains that, within the framework of the entire process, the Public Ministry and the judiciary have positioned themselves in favour of the mining company and have enabled the criminalization of the activists, both the eight who are imprisoned and the other five leaders on whom an indictment has been received but not confirmed. For these reasons, they are considered politically persecuted.

The accusations of the defendants of the Guapinol waters highlights a generalized pattern of criminalization, violence, and repression against environmental activists in Honduras. The murder of Berta Cáceres is one of the most renowned cases. The Carlos Escaleras National Park is named after another activist killed in the 90s, who was also a defender of the land and was opposed to a African palm project in the same territory in which CMDBCP fights now.

While issues in the region have dragged on for decades, environmental conflicts in Honduras have worsened since the coup d’etat in 2009, which dismissed the then president, Manuel Zelaya, from his post.

Ciudades Defensoras de los Derechos Humanos (Which translates to Cities who Defend Human Rights) has started asignature collection campaign, in which they demand from the Honduran Government the following:

  • Liberty to the defenders of the Guapinol waters, which have been incarcerated without trial for over a year.
  • The drop of all charges against the people who defend the Tocoa Municipality waters.
  • A guarantee of the protection and physical integrity of the people who integrate the CMDBCP.
  • To respect the decision of the Municipal Summit of Water and the Town Hall as a consultation space where the municipality was declared as one free of mining, with a clear opposition to the mining concessions of Inversiones los Pinares and Ecotek.
  • A guarantee of the right to legitimately and democratically express your opposition towards projects that can affect the natural resources and environment of communities.

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