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Natural resources

“Bargain sale” hurts indigenous people

by Floreana Miesen

In brief

Children of Miskito people at a river bank

Children of Miskito people at a river bank

In Honduras, criticism on the incumbent president is growing. Indigenous communities bemoan that privatisations and the sale of rights to natural resources undermine their livelihoods. By Floreana Miesen

To date, some South American governments still do not recognise Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, who was elected in 2009. He came to power after the left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya was toppled by the military. The intervention of the armed forces was intensely criticised all over the world, and many national governments and international organisations condemned it as an illegitimate coup. Zelaya couldn’t run in the subsequent election, and Lobo ­became the new, though disputed, head of state.

Lobo is now being criticised for privatising state enterprises and stimulating the economy by selling rights to natural resources. Especially Honduras’ indigenous people, who make up 15 % of the population, feel negatively affected. In their eyes, many of the plans for dams and open pit mines threaten to their livelihoods, and so does the privatisation of forests.

A new water law, for example, allows the government to grant river-concessions to foreign companies. In such cases, indi-genous inhabitants tend to be evicted from their land and lose access to water, says Bertha Cáceres, the founder and coordinator of the “Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras” (COPINH). She was awarded the Shalom Prize for Justice and Peace in mid-June and recently shared her views at a meeting held by the civil society organisations Pax Christi and the Association of Democratic Lawyers. She said that in one region, industries now consume the same amount of water a day that indigenous people there drink in a month.

Cáceres, moreover, disagrees with international approaches to climate finance. She says her government is leasing forests to foreign corporations which are interested in tradable credits for preventing carbon emissions. According to Cáceres, such deals hurt indigenous communities by depriving them of their livelihoods in those forests. Cáceres fears that recently concluded free trade agreements with the EU and the US will accelerate such trends.

At the same time, there is serious ­political repression. According the website of Human Rights Watch, journalists, human rights defenders, political activists, and transgender people face violence and threats, and those responsible for these abuses are rarely held to account. Eight COPINH members, Cáceres reports, have already died: “We have no one we can turn to anymore.” (fm)