Honduras Dam Project Shadowed by Violence

A proposed hydroelectric dam in Rio Blanco has pitted the locals against the police and a private security force.

Source: Al Jazeera

Rio Blanco, Honduras – Berta Caceres, 42, is anxious to get on the road before nightfall. Caceres, a leader of the indigenous Lenca people in western Honduras, has been forced into a precarious fugitive existence amid a battle over a controversial hydroelectric dam.

She has received countless threats of sexual violence, kidnappings and death directed not only herself, but also at her 81-year-old mother and four children – who have been forced to leave Honduras as a result.

Caceres takes several precautions. She rarely spends more than a night in the same place and never travels alone, but even then, she knows moving around risks yet another dangerous pursuit by armed men. Caceres rarely communicates on the telephone or makes public appearances. However, she told Al Jazeera that while she is vigilant and resolute, she remains scared.

“The army has an assassination list of 18 wanted human rights fighters with my name at the top. I want to live, there are many things I still want to do in this world but I have never once considered giving-up fighting for our territory, for a life with dignity, because our fight is legitimate. I take lots of care but in the end, in this country where there is total impunity I am vulnerable… when they want to kill me, they will do it.”

The threats, she told Al Jazeera at her home in the pine-covered mountains of La Esperanza, are from private security guards working for the dam company, as well as the police and army protecting the project.

Privatisation and violence

The Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam in Rio Blanco has become what some observers consider a David versus Goliath battle for water in Honduras where the government is selling off the country’s rivers and other natural resources to the highest bidders.

It is pitting the indigenous population against powerful, internationally financed companies who are allied with the government. Since a coup d’etat in June 2009, many community leaders, union activists, human rights workers, journalists and lawyers say they faced increased repression.