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COPINH opposes Canadian dam construction in Honduras

The Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the organization co-founded by recently slain land rights defender Berta Cáceres, is opposed to the construction of the Canjel River Hydroelectric Project on Lenca territory in Honduras.

Hydrosys, a Canadian company with offices in Vancouver, Montreal and Sherbrooke, is involved in the construction of this dam.

In March 2015, Upside Down World reported, “[The dam] is already under construction near the border of Santa Barbara and Intibucá. Blue Energy – a brand new dam company owned by U.S. investor Peter Ochs of a Kansas-based private equity firm, Capital III – together with Canadian dam company Hydrosys Consultants, have begun building the Canjel Dam. The proposed dam is small, yet is being built in violation of ILO Convention 169, as the Lenca communities in the northern part of Intibucá, including Rio Blanco, were never consulted.”

The Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (1989) is an International Labour Organization Convention, also known as ILO Convention 169. It is a forerunner of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples. Article 6 of the convention states, “In applying the provisions of this Convention, governments shall: consult the peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, whenever consideration is being given to legislative or administrative measures which may affect them directly…”

The article adds, “Berta Cáceres found herself mired in threats related to the Canjel Dam.”

And Telesur reported after Cáceres was killed that, “Cáceres made statements last April claiming that ‘men close to Blue Energy’, a transnational Canadian company looking to build a dam in the Rio Blanco area in western Honduras, or people ‘close to politicians’ and ‘death squads promoted from government policies’ were behind the death threats leveled against her. …Cáceres and her fellow activists found out that Blue Energy planned to build a dam on another local waterway, the Canjel River. The community was never consulted about the project and COPINH publicly opposed the dam.”

Upside Down World has also noted, “Hydrosys Consultants, the Canadian company in charge of the construction, permits, and engineering of the Canjel Dam, is involved in at least 5 dams in Honduras. The Canjel Dam is not the only one facing opposition from the Lenca people. The Lenca people of San Francisco de Opalaca, founders of COPINH, have – since at least 2007 – blocked the construction of another dam Hydrosys seeks to build, the Gualcarque Hydroelectric Project.”

As well, “Hydrosys has been contracted by Rio Power S.A., owned by Fredy Nasser, a member of the wealthy, powerful elite that dominate Honduran business and  politics, and who were behind the 2009 military coup in Honduras that unleashed the current wave of state-violence and repression. Nasser is the son-in-law of Miguel Facusse, Honduras’ wealthiest man whose company in the Lower Aguan Valley has been associated with repression and murders related to land grabs; well over 100 small farmers have been murdered in the region.”

There are other Canadian connections to human rights violations in Honduras.

The Centre for Research on Globalization has pointed out, “Since the coup in 2009, corporate interests have led to land disputes, with the army siding with logging and mining companies over local populations. Hydroelectric projects were and are pushed forward to provide power for these industries. …The biggest gold miners in Honduras are Canadian and operate with backing from the World Bank, to condemnation from COPINH.”

The Council of Canadians has argued that Canadian investments are contributing to social conflict in Honduras, particularly in the mining, export manufacturing and tourism sectors.

In Feb. 2014, we joined with other civil society organizations from Canada and Quebec to express our concern that the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement would further undermine human rights and democracy in Honduras. Since the 2009 military coup against democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, violence and repression have reached an all-time high. Cáceres was at least the 110th environmental or land defender to be killed in Honduras since 2010.

The Council of Canadians supports the call for the Canadian government to publicly pressure Honduran authorities to suspend, review and annul all hydroelectric and mining concessions on Lenca territory granted without their free, prior and informed consent.