By Julien Christe & Allison Lira
In the mountains of Northern Honduras, extractive industries generously profit from forestland belonging to the indigenous Tolupan tribe of San Francisco Locomapa with the approval of the Honduran state and the Tribal Council (Consejo Directivo in Spanish). Meanwhile, the vast majority of the Tolupan people live far below the poverty line, with many suffering from malnutrition and deprived of adequate shelter.
In the 1990’s, members of the Tolupan tribe of San Francisco Locomapa formed the Preventative Council (Consejo Preventivo in Spanish) to defend indigenous rights and the environment, and to give voice to an alternative vision of community development, in 2009 becoming part of the Honduran civil society organization, the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ in spanish). The cost of their activism has been devastatingly high. Since 2013, 10 murders linked to economic interests in the area have been recorded, many of which remain in impunity.
On Monday May 10, 2021, the persecution continued as a group of people associated with the INMARE logging company (owned by businessman Wilder Dominguez) and with the Tolupan Tribal Council attacked environmental defenders peacefully protesting the destruction of their forestland.
The Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice reports that over the course of the day, many were injured, including one woman who was shot in the leg, the construction site for a community radio station was destroyed, and environmental defender, Celso Alberto Cabrera had his family home set on fire, his two children still inside. Members of the Tribal Council are said to have directly participated in the attack and to have made death threats against a number of community leaders. In one case, council member Kristian Medina told indigenous leader and environmental defender Angela Murillo that, “Today at 12 tonight we’re going to throw you out of your house and we’re going to burn it.” A video of some of the attack can be watched here.
It is reported that police arrived at midday to secure the safe passage of INMARE machinery. The police made no attempts to protect the victims of the attack or to secure medical attention for the injured. In some instances, police passively witnessed the assault of the environmental defenders and in others, directly participated in the violence. Furthermore, when Angela Murillo traveled to report the death threats made against her and other crimes, members of the Police Investigation Directorate (DPI in spanish) and the Ministerio Publico initially resisted receiving her complaint, only doing so after repeated requests from Ms. Murillo and those accompanying her. Over the years, the environmental defenders have on countless occasions denounced the ongoing persecution that they face. Authorities have yet to properly investigate and prosecute the vast majority of these crimes.
From the Lenca communities in Rio Blanco to the campesinos in the Aguan Valley, Honduran security forces demonstrate that they are more than capable of protecting, investigating and prosecuting when it is in the interest of economic stakeholders. Environmental and land defenders across Honduras have denounced the overwhelming shows of police and judicial force used to protect capital while they are left unprotected, their murders never brought to justice. This state of affairs is well established and has only worsened since the 2009 coup, as ever increasing levels of militarization and the steady weakening of oversight mechanisms and constitutional guarantees has opened the door for corruption and the collapse of rule of law.
Still, in an extraordinary show of courage, indigenous and environmental leaders continue to peacefully resist. This is certainly the case in San Francisco Locomapa where MADJ and the Consejo Preventivo continue to push forward despite the high level of threat. Over the last year, we have accompanied Tolupan community leaders as they began the construction of a community radio station (now destroyed) and organized communal subsistence initiatives. In March 2021, the Consejo Preventivo won a landmark court case, which affirmed the Tolupan people’s right to health and alimentation, resulting in the establishment of a permanent public health clinic for the Tolupan communities in the area. Now, we accompany them as they work to realize a project that would take trees downed by Hurricane Eta and Iota to build houses for community members in need, the project currently denied approval by the Honduran and tribal authorities.
Since the coup, the United States has been complicit in the deterioration of conditions for Honduran human rights defenders through its economic and political support for Honduran security forces. A growing contingent of Congress is now working to change that. Join them and stand with the Tolupan environmental defenders by supporting the Berta Caceres Act in the House of Representatives and the Honduran Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act in the Senate, both of which calls for the suspension of U.S. security aid to Honduras until endemic impunity, corruption and human rights violations are addressed.