Honduras: Rio Blanco communities take action to defend rivers, territory, and life

by April 9, 2013

At 5am on the first of April, the indigenous communities* of Rio Blanco, Honduras, with coordination of COPINH (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras), gathered on the main access road leading to the proposed "Agua Zarca" hydroelectric dam, blocking access to the construction that has already began. On the second of April they issued an ultimatum to the company, demanding the immediate removal of construction equipment and permanent removal of the project.

The communities of Rio Blanco, whom hold a community title to the territory, were not adequately consulted nor allowed to participate in the process leading to this project, as is international law. Only the mayor of the municipality and a few well compensated individuals ratified the project. The right of indigenous peoples to determine their own process of development is guarantied by ILO Convention 169.

The construction and completion of this dam will cause widespread environmental destruction, flooding inhabited and utilized areas, restricting the access of water to many thousands of people in Rio Blanco and down stream (access was recently blocked during holy week celebrations), cause the degradation of pristine natural areas, produce huge quantities of greenhouse gasses through the decomposition of submerged biomass, in addition to water and land contamination caused by the construction. Simply put, this dam is a death sentence to the indigenous communities that have lived here for generations.

This type of so called "green development" has been greatly accelerated after the 09' coup which has since opened the flood gates to transnational and neo-liberal exploitation of natural resources.

There have been around 360 newly accepted development concessions in Honduras, 30% of which are on indigenous lands. Within this neo-liberal framework, dam projects serve a dual purpose. SIEPAC (Central American Electrical Interconnection System) part of the Mesoamerica Project (previously called Plan Pueblo-Panama) will connect the electrical grids of all Mesoamerica allowing cheap energy to be transported to the energy hungry USA. In addition, dams are necessary to redirect the enormous quantity of water needed for mining operations. For these reasons, resistance to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam (and dam projects in general) is extremely important because it will open the door to exponentially worse environmental degradation and destruction of indigenous cultures.

The danger to the communities of Rio Blanco participating in this action can not be understated. For example the land reclamation action 3 years ago in Bajo Aguan has seen the murder of over 100 participants and counting. There has been an influx of heavily armed men in the area, and violent threats against participants have been consistent.

International Solidarity plays an extremely important role in defending the human rights of those in defense of mother earth and indigenous culture. In addition to any form of solidarity action imaginable, the communities of Rio Blanco and COPINH are asking for people to send denouncements to various departments and heads of state. You can get details on that here: http://www.soaw.org/about-us/equipo-sur/263-stories-from-honduras/4091-copinhrioblanco.


  • 4-12: At 6:30am, without any prior notice, around 40 heavily armed National Police evicted the blockade. They removed and attempted to burn tarps, banners, and bedding, searched bags, took down identification information for perceived leaders, threw out all food and drinking water, and forcibly took cameras away from international human rights observers, took down their passport information, and returned the cameras with the photos and video erased.

    A detachment of 8 police stayed overnight and into the morning. They said they were told the blockade was blocking civilian traffic and felt a bit betrayed to find out the road only accessed the construction site. The blockade was reestablished that night.

  • 4-17: Community members along will members of COPINH traveled 5 hours to the capital and installed a daylong “planton” (sit-in) outside the Presidential Palace.
  • 4-19: Around 50 community members, along with members of COPINH, and international human rights observers executed a “community inspection of territory”, hiking most of the day through various zones affected by the development of the dam. Foremen and workers (mostly from the capital city Tegucigalpa) were found near the river and were peacefully forced to leave. The workers led us to an even bigger construction area where various earth movers and been working. They had been alerted to our presence and were already in full retreat. To this writer, the devastation caused by the construction of the river valley was heart breaking.
  • 4-22: At 6 a.m. over 75 community members, along with COPINH and international observers, marched to the local company headquarters (where construction equipment and materials are stored, as well as the location of modern administrative offices and dorms) roughly 2 miles from road blockade. The entrance gate was blocked and work for the day shut down. For hours the air was filled with chants and denouncements. In the afternoon the National Police arrived and the community decided on a tactical retreat to avoid state violence.

For more information: http://www.copinh.org/

Additional article: http://upsidedownworld.org/main/news-briefs-archives-68/4249-defending-rio-blanco-three-weeks-of-the-lenca-community-roadblock-in-honduras

Donation link (must put COPINH in field titled “on behalf of”): http://www.rightsaction.org/tax-deductible-donations

  • Joshua Nichols
    April 15, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Calls and e-mails are requested to the Honduran government to urge them to ensure the life and safety of the members of the Rio Blanco community and COPINH as well as to respect ILO Convention 169 on the rights of Indigenous people to be consulted about projects in their territory. A sample message in Spanish is below.

    Send e-mails with the sample message or a personalized message to:

    rigobertocuellar@hotmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , luisgreen65@yahoo.esThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , luisgreen@sedinafroh.gob.hnThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , cham@ina.hnThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , hrodriguez@ina.hnThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , juanorlandohernandez@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , juanorlandohernandez@yahoo.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , info@sjdh.gob.hnThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , janydelcid@yahoo.esThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , diseloalpresidente@presidencia.gob.hnThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , oaseguridad@hotmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , lrubi@mp.hnThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

    Sample Message:

    Estimados Señores y Señoras:

    Les contacto para expresar mi preocupación sobre la situación y amenazas que enfrenta la comunidad Lenca y miembros de COPINH en Río Blanco, por expresar su rechazo al proyecto Agua Zarca en su territorio. Estoy sumamente preocupado de escuchar que el Sr. Cristian Toledo de SINOHYDRO llegó a la toma de carretera, acompañado por la DGIC y la Policía Nacional, y amenazó a miembros de la comunidad. Les insto respetar la vida y los derechos de las comunidades Lencas y los miembros de COPINH que están exigiendo su derecho legitimo a decidir sobre su territorio.

    Entiendo que las comunidades han rechazado el proyecto Hidroeléctrico Agua Zarca en cabildeos abiertos y asambleas Indígenas y que han informado al estado sobre su posición y han hecho denuncias en contra del proyecto Agua Zarca. Les insto respetar el Convenio 169 de la OIT y respetar el derecho de las comunidades Lencas de ser consultadas sobre proyectos en su territorio -- incluyendo su derecho de rechazar estos proyectos.

    Voy a seguir monitoreando la situación en Rio Blanco y el comportamiento de la policía y las empresas. Espero que tomen acción inmediata para resolver la situación y asegurar respeto a la vida y los derechos del pueblo Lenca en Río Blanco.


    {Sign with your name, city/state, country, and organization if applicable}

    Make calls to:

    -Fiscal General de la Republica, Luis Alberto Rubí: (504) 2221-5670 or (504) 2221-3099 or (504) 2221-5603

    -SERNA (Secretaría de Recursos Naturales y Ambiente): (504) 2232-1386 or (504) 2235-7833, ask for the office of Minister Rigoberto Cuellar

    -President’s Office: (504) 9990-0878


  • Deborah
    April 15, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    Because of your comments on the political issues of 2009, I cannot trust your report of the issues of today at Rio Blanco. Please explain: which Rio Blanco, Honduras do you mean? Rio Blanco in what Muni and what Departmento (I am assuming Dept. Santa Barbara)? Probably every Departmento and every Muni within it has a "Rio Blanco."

    Having lived relatively near the area in question and among the indigenous, I have first hand knowledge and therefor significant facts to support a very different picture of your political overview of the issues of 2009. It's a shame. This may well be something I would support, I will certainly research the issue. But your misstatements of the facts of 2009 tarnish your efforts. I'm sure you intentions are good, but your "facts" are wrong.


  • April 16, 2013 at 10:48 am

    This Rio Blanco is in the Municipality of Intibucá, but some of the assoicated communities lay in Santa Barbara, and the city of Santa Barbara is the closest major population. As far as the coup. I was presenting my oppinion based off of what I have read and been told about the coup from many sources. Another reason for the coup that I wish I had put was Zalaya´s insistance of the removal of US military bases. What are the ¨facts¨ as you see them? Unfortunitly, the nearest computer is 3 hours away by bus and was writen by hand before being transcribed in an email. I hoped to offset this by refrencing other articles. For the last 2 weeks I have been the only english speaker at the action and need to get the information out was more important then my lack of experience. Thank you for your critique. Im sure it will make me a better writer.


  • Deborah
    April 17, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    to John: what is a legal coup? Also, please define your use of the word coup.


  • Deborah
    April 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Joshua, I have spent some time trying to research the situation at "Rio Blanco." You say it is in Muni Intibuca. How far is the area from twin cities Intibuca/La Esperanza. Is it related to Montana de Rio Blanco? I'm very interested in why this location was selected for this hydo-electric project. What is the nature of this "Rio Blanco"? Is it fast-running, or does it maintain it's water level more consistently than most rios" Do the plans include a permanent flooding of a tract of land? If so, is that land part of a flood plane? How much flooding of the area occurred because of hurricane Mitch? How was the ingenious population affected by Mitch? Where are the head waters of this Rio Blanco and to where does it drain? What are the names the indigenous aldeas or communities affected by the hydo-electric project?... coordinates would be much better if you can provide them.

    I have many other questions about this issue, and since you are leading a charge related to it, I'm hoping you can provide a link to formal scientific reports, plans, contractual agreements, or something factual (spanish language documents are fine).

    Not to chastise, but statements like "allowing cheap energy to be transported to the energy hungry USA" do not lend credibility to your reporting. Honduras doesn't have the infrastructure to provide power to its own and it is at least decades away from that goal. Look around and count the transformers on any selection of a few blocks in any pueblo or city. Count the insulators and hot wires. and what not as easy to see is that there are far too few grounds, if any. It's frightening! It just doesn't make any sense that a small hydro-electric project in central Honduras with Comayagua, Siguatepeque, Santa Barbara and Santa Rosa de Copan relatively close and even Tugucigalpa and San Pedro Sula less than 200 km away would somehow send electrical power thousands of miles and all the way across Guatemala and Mexico to "energy hungry USA". Electrical power isn't "transported" that way.

    You write well, but you need to work on your research habits and fact finding.

    I look forward to your reply.


  • Joshua Nichols
    April 24, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    I am by no means "leading a charge", that would be the community of rio blanco. If you look up SIEPEC you will find that energy is actually transported that way. The lack of local electrical infrastructure is by no means proof that there is not intercontinental infrastructure. In fact, neo-liberal extraction of recourses like this and a lack of local infrastructure tend to go hand in hand.
    As far as factual documentation, check out http://www.copinh.org/. They have many links to such information (its in spanish but you said thats fine).
    And about your perception of the coup, all i can say is you need to work on your research habits and fact finding.


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