Lic. Rolando Edgardo Argueta Pérez, President of the Supreme Court of Justice
August 25, 2020
Dear Honorable Judge Argueta:
We are appalled by the criminalization of environmental defenders from the community of El Guapinol in Tocoa, Colón Department. These men have been imprisoned in “preventive detention” awaiting formal charges since September 2019: Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, José Abelino Cedillo, Kelvin Alejandro Romero, Arnold Javier Alemán, Ever Alexander Cedillo, Orbin Nahúm Hernández, Daniel Márquez, and Jeremías Martínez. In November 2019, defense lawyers filed a habeas corpus petition for their release, arguing illegal application of preventive detention; that appeal was finally denied two weeks ago.
To bring attention to several identified environmental, social, human, and economic impacts of large scale mining projects in the Atlantic zone, residents of El Guapinol and surrounding communities organized the Encampment on the Defense of Water and Life in August 2018. They pointed to contamination of the Guapinol and San Pedro Rivers, which supply drinking water to fourteen surrounding communities, caused by an iron ore mine operated since 2014 by Los Inversiones Los Pinares (owners: Lenir Pérez and Ana Facussé). Of particular concern are impacts on the Montaña de Botaderos National Park, which supplies several rivers flowing to Olancho, Atlántida, and Colón Departments. Area residents have documented how the mine is destroying animal life and contaminating smaller waterways. Tens of thousands of inhabitants are at risk of losing their agricultural crops and homes.
Arrest warrants were issued for 18 members of the Guapinol Encampment when a violent eviction was carried out in October 2018 by 1,500 security personnel of the National Army, Cobras (militarized anti-riot police units), and the National Preventative Police. Three people were killed in the attack, including Levin Alexander Bonilla (a member of the encampment) and two members of the armed forces. Violence continued in subsequent days (cf our letters of Oct 23, Nov 11, Nov 23, and Nov 26, 2018).
Other environmental defenders of the Guapinol Encampment were released from prison in March 2019 (Juan A. López, Carlos Leonel George, Reynaldo Domínguez Ramos, José Cedillo Mendoz, and Marco Tuilo Ramos), but their continued freedom is in jeopardy because of the recent court ruling. On August 13, the Court of Appeals of Francisco Morazán revoked their order of release, leaving the door open for the Public Ministry to present more evidence against the environmental defenders over the next five years.
We strongly urge that you see that justice is carried out and
- recognize the violation of the right to due process and personal freedom experienced by the eight environmental defenders who have been held in preventive detention for one year
- urge the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to reject the August 13 decision of the Court of Appeals
- order the immediate release of the eight men, dropping all charges against them
Brian J. Stefan Szittai and Christine Stonebraker-Martinez , Co-Coordinators