On July 21st, the newly created U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) announced that it signed an agreement with the Honduran government with the intention of funding $1 billion of private sector investment in Honduras over the next three years. This announcement was made just three days after the forced disappearance of four Garífuna leaders, over which the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa and Honduran government have received immense pressure.
If you have ever been on a delegation to Honduras with us or heard human rights lawyer Heidy Alachán speak at an event last year, you know that human rights and environmental defenders have detailed the consequences of privatized investment - which ultimately subjects communities to violence, impoverishment, and displacement.
The DFC announced that, in conjunction with the Inter-American Development Bank, it will be using U.S. tax dollars to invest in the Jilamito Hydropower Project. INGELSA, the company behind this highly contentious project, illegally pushed it forward without legally-required free, prior, and informed consent. Additionally, the company has a well-documented history of using intimidation tactics to squash opposition to the project - including physical threats, bogus criminal charges, and even utilizing police and military to harass those who have spoken out against the corrupt manner in which the project was pushed through. At least three people in opposition to the project have been murdered, and one person has sought asylum in the U.S. as a result of this project.
As you know, the cases of Jilamito and Triunfo de la Cruz are not outliers in Honduras, nor is the pattern of impunity; this norm is backed by the U.S. government. The DFC’s announcement was reminiscent of the post-coup Honduran administration’s 2009 broadcast: that “Honduras is Open for Business.” The extractive Agua Zarca Dam Project, which led to the assassination of world-renowned activist Berta Cáceres, was a product of this international push for private investment after U.S.-friendly politicians were safely installed into power. The legacy of U.S. priority for private interests over human rights speaks for itself - Global Witness has determined that Honduras is the most dangerous country in the world per capita for environmental defenders.
Community members organized with The Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ in Spanish), maintain an encampment in protest of this harmful hydroelectric project and are asking the international community to support their effort in stopping this investment from going through.
Today, Representative Ilhan Omar led a group of 28 Congressional Representatives on a letter addressed to DFC CEO, Adam Boehler, asking him to pull this investment that has been riddled with corruption, persecution, and murder. In the letter, Omar and the 27 other Members referenced Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández's deep links to corruption and human rights abuses that are tantamount to crimes against humanity. Omar et al. also do not let the shady timing of the announcement and location of the project go unnoticed - Garifuna leaders believe the July forced disappearance of their compañeros is a targeted attack for their unwavering defense of their ancestral land.
"It is deeply alarming that you, Chargé Hoey, and Mr. Claver-Carone found it acceptable to appear with President Hernández and announce an investment in the same region of the country where those disappearances – and years of human rights violations – have taken place," the letter reads.
The Congressional Members emphasize that due to the DFC's failure to meet its own human rights protocols and the lack of oversight mechanisms to prevent corruption, they will be seeking legislative options to ensure the project does not move forward.
You can read the full letter below. If your Representative was a signer, consider sending them a thank you for their work in solidarity with human rights defenders in Honduras.