HONDURAS: Since April 2013, the Lenca people of Río Blanco have blocked the construction of a dam
Defending Río Blanco
by Brigitte Gynther, SOA Watch – the article will be published in the upcoming issue of Presente
“Are you afraid of bullets?” a member of the National Police asked Marcelina as soldiers and policemen surrounded her. “No,” said Marcelina, “I’m not afraid to die and I’m not going to move.” The soldiers and police threatened Marcelina, who stood protecting her community’s ancestral land — where they grow corn, beans, bananas, oranges, and more — from the construction of an illegal dam. The soldiers and police stayed there for several hours, but Marcelina held her ground and other women soon joined her in blocking the machinery. They held vigil all night, sleeping outside, determined not to let the machinery advance.
Since April 1, 2013, the Lenca people of Río Blanco have been physically blocking the construction of an illegal dam in their territory. For years they had tried to stop corporations from coming onto their land to no avail. When the dam company destroyed crops they depend on to survive and private security guards prohibited them from accessing a river they have used for generations, they realized they had no other option than to stop the dam themselves.
Río Blanco is one of many communities throughout Honduras threatened by the privatization and corporate agenda pushed by the post-military coup government, which has turned over land and natural resources to corporations at an alarming rate, with total disregard for the communities who live there. When people resist, the U.S.-funded military or other security forces are called in. In fact, the new mining law includes a provision by which mining companies will pay a percentage to the military.
For defending their land and river, the Lenca people of Río Blanco face death threats and have had their community militarized—with members of a military unit commanded by a SOA graduate dispatched to serve the dam company. On July 15, 2013, a soldier shot and killed community leader Tomás García, firing at him multiple times from just a few feet away during a protest. The police have raided houses, fired shots, thrust guns at children, and evicted the Lenca roadblock. Berta Cáceres, leader of the Lenca organization COPINH to which the Río Blanco people belong, has been ordered to jail, detained by the military, and threatened with death. Yet, the resistance of the Lenca people has only grown stronger.
María, whose determined resistance has led to death threats and persecution, explains, “If I die, I will die defending life.” Clementino Martínez, a young father of two who works the land to feed his children, explains the motivation of many: “This is a struggle because we love our children; this is for our children, our grandchildren, and all the generations who will come after us.”
In a country governed by impunity and injustice, the people of Río Blanco have had some success. In July, Chinese company SINOHYDRO, the largest dam builder in the world, withdrew from the project and left. In January 2014, the Central American Mezzanine Infrastructure Fund, connected to the World Bank, announced it was canceling an approved loan for the dam. And thanks to national and international pressure, one set of charges against Berta Caceres has been provisionally dismissed.
The struggle is far from over but there is no doubt that the women, men and children of Rio Blanco will continue their resistance, day in and day out, until their land and lives are respected, no matter how many soldiers are sent in, no matter how many death threats they receive.
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