In Hiding in Honduras

Kevin Donaldo Ramírez, 29, of Honduras describes himself as an environmental activist, just like his hero Berta Cáceres, a defender of indigenous rights and lands who was murdered in March.

When he heard the news of her death, “I cried,” he says. “They killed Berta, but it was like they had killed me.” Cáceres, he says, had been an inspiration for many of the people working to protect indigenous and rural territories from development interests.

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Berta Cáceres had been the most visible leader for Honduran indigenous people in resistance to development projects. Since her murder, environmental activists in Honduras appear even more vulnerable. Global Witness reports that Honduras is the most dangerous place in the world for people like Ramírez; 109 eco-defenders have been killed there since 2010, and eight were killed in 2015.

Because of these deaths, Ramírez knows that resisting development projects can be dangerous. Powerful interests seek to produce energy by damming the Río Listón, practically in his backyard in his community in Quimistán. 

Last year he endured several death threats and one murder attempt. His wife was attacked by one of his own neighbors, apparently hired by local businesspeople. Some stand to gain greatly from the project at the expense of their neighbors.

Honduras is a troubled country, now the second most violent in the world. The most desirable places in Honduras for energy production are located where farmers and indigenous people live, and conflicts over land often end violently. Since a coup deposed Manuel Zelaya, the popularly elected president, in 2009, 111 river concessions and more than 155 land concessions for mining have been approved without consultation with the people in communities that would be directly affected.

Ramírez's community is small; most people are farmers. The river is too important for their crops and their lifestyle, he says, for them to surrender it to energy production. His village is not the only community in Honduras facing a conflict of this type. In the whole municipality of Quimistán, six dam projects are underway. Many of the people who live in communities around the new dams say they learned of the projects only when construction work began.

Ramírez and his family have regularly had to flee his community when threats begin. That is why he has no permanent job, which makes it difficult for him to support his family. But he believes that God is in nature and that it is important to defend the land. It is the only legacy he can leave to his sons, he says; he does not possess property or wealth.

In September a Jesuit-sponsored group in El Progreso, called Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación, persuaded the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to demand protective measures for Ramírez and his family, and now the Honduran state is responsible for his safety. Sadly, before she was murdered Berta Cáceres had been given the same commitments of protection from the state.

As the investigation into Cáceres’s murder continues in Honduras, the killing has had an impact in the United States. In June, Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat of Georgia, introduced legislation that would suspend U.S. funding to Honduras for police and military operations until the Honduran government investigates human rights violations.

Meanwhile, the lack of consensus and consultation in Honduras results in conflicts like the one that has again driven Ramírez from his community. As recent death threats escalated, he has gone one more time into hiding.

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