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Honduras: Protect Forests and Environmental Activists
May 2003

 

In the Department of Olancho in northeastern Honduras, peasant farmers, local governments, priests, conservationists and human rights activists are joining together to end a bloody era of corruption and repression. They are demanding protection of their unique forests and of their civil rights against the powerful cabal of landowners, loggers and industrialists that is sacking the forests and repressing democratic processes by intimidation and murder. They think pressure from the international community is critical to shift the odds in favor of democracy, accountability, conservation, and sustainable development.

Olancho is Honduras’ most biologically diverse region, with ecosystems ranging from mountain–top elfin and cloud forests to rare old–growth pine forests and lowland tropical rainforests. Nearly 500 species of birds and many endangered and endemic plants and animals depend on Olancho's unique range of ecosystems. It is one of only two places where you might spot the Honduran Emerald hummingbird and the Red–throated Caracara. In the Sierra de Agalta National Park, the Babilonia River drops 2,000 feet in a little over a mile, through 10 spectacular cascades, some over 150 feet high.

For corrupt politicians, large landowners, and logging companies, Olancho is the last frontier for illegal logging and agro–industrial development. All they need to set industrial development in motion is electricity, so they're building a dam on the beautiful Babilonia River. For decades their guns, tear gas, and death threats have held in check the uprisings led by peasants, priests, and indigenous peoples. In June 2001, anti–dam activist Carlos Flores was killed by security guards at the Babilonia dam site. No one was prosecuted for this crime. Then in June 2004, sawmill operators circulated a list of targeted citizen activists. On July 18 one name on the list became a name on a gravestone when 23−year old Carlos Arturo Reyes was murdered in his own back yard.

Most Olancho residents desperately want to reclaim their homeland, and govern and protect it for themselves and future generations. Throughout the region, city and county governing boards, Catholic churches, environmental and human rights groups have declared their opposition to the Babilonia dam, which was under construction by the Honduran energy company Energisa. They say Energisa's Environmental Impact Study was bogus; the dam will cut the river's flow by 90 percent, affecting ecotourism and coffee farms as well as the river ecology itself. Industrial development made possible by the hydroelectric project would further destroy the natural beauty and biological wealth of the region. Illegal loggers have already been clearcutting the old–growth pine forests with impunity and building illegal roads to take out tropical hardwoods, while federal officials look the other way. Olanchanos want the Honduran government to recognize the authority of municipal councils to protect natural resources vital to the communities' future and well-being.

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