SCHAKOWSKY, COLLEAGUES URGE STATE DEPARTMENT TO CONTINUE SUPPORT OF ENVIRONMENTALISTS IN BAJO AGUAN REGION OF HONDURAS
August 15, 2023
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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), and Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07) led 16 of their colleagues in a letter urging United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken to ensure that the U.S. Embassy in Honduras is continually engaging the Honduran government to combat corruption while protecting the environmentalists in the Bajo Aguan region from future violence and attacks, and ensuring that their demands are fully and fairly attended to. This includes the definitive cancelation of the Los Pinares mining licenses in the Carlos Escaleras Botaderos Mountain National Park.
On June 15, Oqueli Dominguez Ramos, a vocal opponent of the illegal installation of the Los Pinares open pit iron ore mine was murdered in his home. Oqueli’s mother, Catalina Ramos, was left injured with a gunshot wound in the leg. Just five months earlier, Catalina’s other son, Ali, was also murdered by men on motorbikes when he returned home from work with his friend Jairo Bonilla. Catalina’s third son, Reynaldo, was forced to leave home after receiving targeted threats because of his opposition to the mine.
Los Pinares mining company was initially a joint venture between the U.S. steel giant Nucor and the Honduran conglomerate EMCO Group, owned by Ana Facusse and her husband Lenir Perez. EMCO and other corporations backed by Ana Facusse’s father, Miguel Facusse, have long been accused of violence, illicit influence in the Honduran judicial system, and even connections to drug trafficking. Facusse’s interests in the Bajo Aguan region, where the Los Pinares mine is located, began with what is widely denounced as massive, violent, and illegal grabs of agrarian reform and indigenous Garifuna lands by Facusse’s Dinant corporation. This year alone, seven land rights defenders in disputes with Dinant have been killed.
“We are concerned by the level of support the corporations associated with the Facusse family have enjoyed from the international community, including access to financing from multilateral development banks and investment from a major US corporation, despite evidence of involvement in corruption, violence and other human rights violations,” concluded the lawmakers. “We are further concerned that the actions of these kinds of companies and a failure to counter them will undermine the Biden Administration’s objectives in the region.”
While the lawmakers “are encouraged by the current Honduran government’s important efforts to support investigations into these violent networks” through various initiatives, the lawmakers’ urge the U.S. Department of State to engage with the Honduran government to ensure:
- The definitive cancelation of the Los Pinares mining licenses
- The investigation into the murders of human rights defenders and environmentalists by the Tegucigalpa-based special prosecutor of crimes against life, and
- The future protection and security of human rights defenders and environmentalists in the Bajo Aguan region
In addition to Schakowsky, García, Omar and Grijalva, cosigners of the letter include Reps. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., Joaquin Castro, Jamie Raskin, Barbara Lee, Kevin Mullin, Cori Bush, Adriano Espaillat, Paul D. Tonko, Jimmy Panetta, James P. McGovern, Veronica Escobar, Lloyd Doggett, Jared Huffman, Rashida Tlaib, Linda T. Sánchez, and Ritchie Torres.