November 30, 2021
On Wednesday, December 1, the long-awaited trial of the Guapinol Defenders will begin in Tocoa, Honduras. The eight water protectors have been arbitrarily detained for more than 27 months in response to criminal complaints filed by the Los Pinares mining company - part of the mining division of Grupo Emco, owned by Lenir Perez and Ana Facusse - against at least 32 community members for protesting the implementation of several mining projects that affect the water of nearby communities.
There is serious concern that the highest levels of the Judiciary are interfering in the case to benefit Perez and Facusse, who maintain closeness to the National Party through several megaprojects in the country. A month ago, the court presiding over the case issued an arbitrary ruling against the defenders, when it decided to maintain their detention without legal grounds. At the same time, in a recent notification, the court, formed by judges Franklin Arauz Santos, Richard Rodríguez Barahona and Carol Jackeline Cedillo Cruz, used stigmatizing words against the families of the defenders and it is feared that the Palace of Justice in Tocoa, where the trial is being held, will be militarized in order to stop public scrutiny and solidarity accompaniment.
Meanwhile, the Public Prosecutor's Office has not delivered the expert reports it is preparing to use against the defenders. All indications are that the Honduran State is preparing to convict the defenders without an adequate defense. At the same time, the court ruled last week that the trial would be public, but to date, it is unknown what provisions have been made to ensure public observation and live broadcast.
From the beginning of the criminalization of the environmentalists, it was proven that the charges were made up with fabricated evidence presented by the Public Prosecutor's Office in Tocoa. In an initial hearing, the MP alleged that the defenders, who were part of a legitimate protest against open-pit iron oxide mining in Carlo Escaleras National Park, were part of a criminal structure, providing a police report that was based on hearsay.
After being recognized by the European Union Parliament as finalists for the distinguished Sakharov Human Rights Prize and the Letelier Moffit Human Rights Prize in Washington, the Guapinol case gained national and international prominence. Earlier this year, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recognized their legitimate work in defense of common and public property and qualified their detentions as illegal, ruling that the Honduran State should immediately release the defenders. The Honduran State refused to comply with the order, which also states that those responsible for the arbitrary detentions must be investigated.
In the two years of the defenders' detention, the Emco Group has moved forward with the construction of the mine and its pelletizing plant in Tocoa, despite allegations of environmental contamination and corruption in the granting of the license for the project, which the MP has not investigated.
Communities affected by mining continue to denounce mining activities that have led to pollution, constant surveillance and a state of terror in the community for those who oppose its implementation without consultation.
The trial is expected to be a turning point for those defending their water and land in Honduras in the face of extractive projects resoundingly rejected by the population.