Honduran Dam Causes Two Deaths
By Miriam Miranda, Translated By Rosalind Glll

The debate over the viability of the Patuca Hydroelectric Dam and the Honduran government's plans to go ahead with construction has finally brought the megaproject to the attention of the nation's public. The government's plans overlook public interest and fail to consider the serious environmental consequences for the indigenous Miskitos and Tawacas.

For more than 10 years, there have been plans to build a series of dams on the Patuca River, the second largest river in Central America. These dams would be part of the Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), which envisions the construction of an unknown number of dams to supply energy to the US through the Central American Electric Interconnection Initiative.

After a trip to Taiwan last October, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya announced that he had obtained $250 million in financing for the construction of the Patuca Dam, which would flood the surrounding forests to create a 72-square-mile reservoir. The project is to be carried out by the Tai Power Company, which has been granted a 15-year concession for en ergy production.

Although an environmental permit has not been issued for dam construction, serious infrastructure planning for the project is already underway. This is somewhat like what happened in Alice in Wonderland: the sentence is being given before the charges have been made. According to statements by the Taiwanese Embassy's Commercial Office, a team of Taiwanese engineers visited the Patuca region in December to determine the size of the area that the reservoir would cover and whether the area contains any archeological ruins.

In mid-December, local press reported opposition to the project from the inhabitants of the areas that would be flooded. Despite this opposition, President Zelaya announced that the government was determined to proceed with dam construction.

Several days later, on December 20, two activists from the Olancho Environmental Movement (MAO) were arrested and then murdered by National Police agents at a police station close to the dam site. The death of the MAO activists is part of a campaign of intimidation against those who defend Honduran forests.

The MAO is a courageous organization that has decided to defend the forests of Olancho, Honduras' largest state, against the massive destruction being carried out in that part of the country. The destruction of the forests is endangering the country's water supply. In the last 20 years, water levels have dropped, and rivers have suffered irreparable sedimentation. The destruction is happening so rapidly that it may not even be feasible to maintain the water levels necessary to keep the Patuca Dam functioning on a permanent basis. People lecture us about our need for a national energy plan and insist on the need to construct megadams, but they fall to consider the fate of the Honduran forests and the role they play in the sustainability of our rivers.

The Honduran government plans to ask the US Army Corps of Engineers, as part of the Nature Conservancy's Sustainable Water Management Program, for advice on the Patuca Dam project.

The Nature Conservancy, a monster that is one of the mainstream environmental movement's sacred cows, was recently the subject of an extended investigation by the Washington Post. The investigation revealed that the organization had used questionable environmental practices, was involved in real estate speculation in preservation areas and has been known to use intimidation tactics in its bids to manage protected areas. Involving the Nature Conservancy as an adviser on the project creates further doubt as to the viability of the project and raises concerns about long-term consequences.

The PPP is supposed to protect biodiversity through the related Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC), but to date MBC officials have remained silent regarding the future destruction of the Patuca River—one of the most important parts of the corridor. The indigenous and black peoples of Mesoamerica have come to see unprecedented duality in the actions of MBC officials. On the one hand, officials permit the construction of megadams; on the other, they stand in the way of land claims by inhabitants who have lived on and looked after the land for centuries.

We can only hope that the death of the MAO environmental activists is not a sign of increased repression and future imposition of projects through force.

Miriam Miranda is a member of the Executive Committee of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization. She has been an activist in the indigenous movement for more than 15 years.

© Earth First! Journal March-April 2007