Honduran Congress Consults with Canadian Government and Mining Companies -- But Not Its Own People

Jen Moore

Latin America Program Coordinator / Coordinadora del programa para América Latina, 2010-2018.

Honduran civil society organizations are once again denouncing Honduran authorities for refusing to consult with them over a new mining law. They have already issued a public statement about the worrisome contents of the proposed bill that they gained access to in January. In this earlier statement, they criticized the law for privileging water supplies for industrial use, continued promotion of open-pit mining despite strong consensus in Honduras against this form of mining, and lack of opportunities for meaningful and binding prior consultation with communities, amongst other complaints.

Meanwhile, according to this latest communiqué and other news reports, Honduran legislators are now seeking input from Canadian experts. This is hardly random, but rather in response to a strong Canadian government and industry lobby over the last couple of years following the military-backed ouster of President Mel Zelaya. Prior to the coup, a mining bill was pending for debate that would have increased taxes in the mining sector, prohibited open-pit mining and the use of toxic substances such as cyanide and mercury, and would have required companies to obtain prior community approval before mining concessions could be granted.

It is important to note that a recent national poll carried out in September 2011 by the Research Centre for Democracy (CESPAD), demonstrates that Honduran social and environmental organizations enjoy broad public support. The study found “strong support for the environmental movement, particularly with regard to reforms of the mining law and for more responsible and just natural resource management.” The same survey also found that some 91% of Hondurans are currently opposed to open-pit mining based on their prior experiences.

This week’s communiqué calls for a vigorous public debate in Honduras, warning that should the bill be imposed, greater conflict and violence is likely to arise. Already, some 18 members of the Siria Valley Environmental Committee, a group that has been actively denouncing public health problems and water scarcity since Goldcorp's San Martín mine went into production in 2000, currently face charges as a result of their efforts to protect their already stressed forests and water supplies. Now one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist, several journalists have also recently been threatened when they have been reporting on the mining law and impacts of mining.

COMMUNIQUÉ (original in Spanish follows)

Honduran National Congress Refuses to Debate Proposed Mining Law with Social Organizations

Tegucigalpa, April 23, 2012

The National Coalition of Environmental and Social Networks against Open-Pit Mining and the Siria Valley Environmental Committee denounce the government’s refusal, and particularly that of the National Congress, to listen to and to address civil society demands with regard to the proposed mining law.

Fear of transparency and dialogue with the Honduran people

The Mining Commission, presided over by deputy Donaldo Reyes Avalar, committed in May 2011 before representatives of more than twenty social and environmental organizations from around the country to widely debate the contents of the proposed law, prior to its approval in the legislature.

But in the following months, rather than follow through, this parlamentarian dedicated his time to insulting environmental organizations, repeatedly expressing that complaints over the damages caused by mining companies lacked proof, demonstrating ignorance about current processes underway in the Environmental Attorney’s Office, and the Secretariats of Natural Resources and Health.

To give one example: On December 13, 2011, an administrative complaint was presented to the Secretary of Health requesting that “the Siria Valley be declared in a state of public health emergency, that those affected by heavy metals be attended to, that new medical analises be carried out and that compensation for harm and damages be considered.”

On repeated occasions, our organizations demanded that the Mining Commission publicize its decision, a demand that went repeatedly unaddressed by the Commission President, deputy Donaldo Reyes Avelar, who argued that they had still not reached a decision.

At the end of January 2012, and following strong national and international pressure on the President of Congress, deputy Juan Orlando Hernández “authorized” that a copy of the new mining law be provided for social organizations. At this time, deputies Donaldo Reyes Avelar and Rolando Dubón Bueso committed to hold a forum with broad participation from social organizations and with journalists as witnesses.

Based on this commitment, we took it upon ourselves to study the proposed decree and expressed to the President of Congress that we have serious differences with the parliamentary report, that we have alternatives to propose because in its current state the proposed new mining law would be more damaging, permissive and favourable to private interests than the law we already have.

Despite these repeated requests for meetings over the ensuing months, the Mining Commission has ignored our demands, demonstrating that their word cannot be trusted, and that they lack a commitment to the interests of the Honduran people; this is a direct contrast with their approach to the national mining association and foreign investors, with whom it appears, the commission is willing to reach a consensus over the content of the new mining law.

The intolerance of the legislators toward any dissenting opinions is so profound that the very Vice President of the commission, deputy Marcio Vega Pinto, recently denounced Reyes Avelar and Dubón Bueso for having exluded him from the working meetings, stating that they had met in secret outside of the capital of Tegucigalpa to develop the proposed law without the participation of some members of the commission.

Handing Honduras to the highest bidder

While the congress has avoided dialogue with social organizations, the Minister of Natural Resources (SERNA), Rigoberto Cuellar, together with the current director of DEFOMIN, Aldo Santos, also former Special Attorney for the Environment, travelled to Canada to promote “the benefits of the proposed mining law” in the annual convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, which recently took place in Toronto.

SERNA also signed a cooperation agreement with the Canadian government and with the Chilean Minister of Mines so that they might advise the Honduran authorities on the content and manner of implementing the mining law.

With the doors closed to public participation and open to foreign governments from whom they hope to get the thumbs up for the mining law is a violation of national sovereignty, as it involves foreign governments in the creation of national laws.

All of the above reaffirms what we have always known: “That a previously calculated plan exists to shut the doors, the ears and the eyes of Honduran authorities to the people’s demands and to the grave problems that communities are living where there are mine projects in place; while, as a result of the decisions of unscrupulous and heartless government officials, the doors are being opened to a new phase of massive destruction of our resources that will surely lead to greater poverty, depletion of our natural resources, sickness and death while our territory and resources are handed over to transnational mining companies, to the detriment of present and future generations.”

Reyes Avelar and Rolando Dubón Bueso have colluded with the representatives of SERNA and DEFOMIN to lobby for a mining law that is dangerous to the interests of the Honduran people, which without a doubt will give rise to greater conflictivity in our communities, who will be prepared to do what is necessary to defend their territories, their resources and their means of life up against the plunder that will come along with the arrival of transnational mining companies who will be protected by a law that the forementioned people are ready to approve behind the backs of Hondurans.

As social organizations, we demand that the National Congress set aside its arrogance and begin an open and transparent process of participation in which the Honduran citizenship will have much to contribute.

Finally, we would like to affirm that our communities have expressed their intention to defend their natural reosurces against mining, logging and hydroelectric developments; and as a result, we hold the National Congress and the Executive Government responsible for the conflicts that will surely arise if, despite popular will, a mining law is approved that ignores and denies the basic human rights of our population.

Tegucigalpa, April 23, 2012

National Coalition of Environmental and Social Networks against Open Pit Mining
Siria Valley Environmental Committee

Congreso Nacional Se Niega a Discutir el Proyecto de Ley de Minería con las Organizaciones Sociales

La Coalición Nacional de Redes Ambientales y Sociales contra la Minería a Cielos Abiertos y el Comité Ambientalista del Valle de Siria, denunciamos la negativa del gobierno y de manera particular del Congreso Nacional, a escuchar y atender las demandas de la sociedad civil, con relación al proyecto de Ley de Minería.

Miedo a la transparencia y diálogo con el pueblo

La Comisión de Minería, presidida por el diputado Donaldo Reyes Avelar, se comprometió en mayo del 2011, ante representantes de más de 20 organizaciones sociales y ambientales de todo el país, a discutir ampliamente los contenidos del proyecto de Ley, previo a su aprobación por el pleno de la Cámara Legislativa.

Pero durante los meses siguientes, lejos de cumplir con su palabra, este parlamentario se dedicó a denigrar a los organizaciones ambientalistas, expresando en reiteradas ocasiones que las denuncias sobre los daños ocasionados por las empresas mineras carecían de fundamento, exhibiendo desconocimiento de los sendos expedientes que existen en la Fiscalía del Ambiente, y en las Secretarías de Recursos Naturales y de Salud.

Para muestra un caso: El 13 de diciembre del año 2011 se presentó reclamo administrativo ante la Secretaria de Salud, solicitando “se declare la zona del Valle de Siria en emergencia sanitaria, que se atienda en forma inmediata a los afectados por metales pesados, se proceda a realizar nuevos análisis médicos y que se considere el resarcimiento de daños y perjuicios”.

En reiteradas oportunidades, nuestras organizaciones exigieron el dictamen elaborado por la Comisión de Minería, y nuestra demanda fue desatendida siempre por su presidente, el diputado Donaldo Reyes Avelar, bajo el argumento que el mismo no estaba concluido aún.

A finales de enero del 2012 y luego de una fuerte presión nacional e internacional hacia la Presidencia del Congreso, el diputado Juan Orlando Hernández “autorizó” la entrega de una copia del Proyecto a las organizaciones sociales. En esta ocasión nuevamente los diputados Donaldo Reyes Avelar y Rolando Dubón Bueso, se comprometieron a realizar un foro con amplia participación de las organizaciones sociales y con la presencia de los medios de comunicación como testigos.

Bajo ese compromiso, nos dimos a la tarea de estudiar cuidadosamente el proyecto de Decreto y le comunicamos a la presidencia del Congreso y de la Comisión de Minería que teníamos serias divergencias con el dictamen parlamentario, y propuestas alternativas, porque bajo su redacción actual, la nueva Ley de Minería, sería más lesiva, permisiva y entreguista que la vigente.

Pese a reiteradas solicitudes para reunirnos durante los últimos meses, la Comisión de Minería ha hecho oídos sordos a nuestras exigencias, demostrando que su palabra no tiene ningún valor, y la ausencia de compromiso con los intereses del pueblo; lo cual contrasta con la posición asumida cuando las demandas son hechas por el gremio minero nacional y los inversionistas extranjeros, con quienes al parecer, si están dispuestos a consensuar el contenido de la nueva Ley de Minería.

La intolerancia de los dictaminadores al disenso con su posición es de tal gravedad, que el propio vicepresidente de la comisión, diputado Marcio Vega Pinto, denunció recientemente a Reyes Avelar y Dubón Bueso, por haberlo excluido de las reuniones de trabajo y aseguró que han sesionado en secreto fuera de Tegucigalpa, para elaborar el dictamen sin la participación de algunos miembros de la comisión.

Honduras al mejor postor

Mientras el Congreso rehúye dialogar con las organizaciones sociales, el ministro de la Recursos Naturales (SERNA), Rigoberto Cuellar, junto al actual director de DEFOMIN y ex Fiscal Especial del Ambiente, Aldo Santos, viajaron a Canadá, para promover las “bondades del proyecto de Ley de Minería”, en la convención anual de inversionistas mineros, realizada recientemente en Toronto.

La SERNA también firmó un Acuerdo de Cooperación con el gobierno canadiense y con el Ministerio de Minas de Chile, para que les “asesoren” sobre los contenidos y las formas de implementación de la ley de minería.

Cerrar las puertas a la participación ciudadana y abrir la puerta a gobiernos extranjeros para que le den el visto bueno a la ley de Minería es un acto que viola la soberanía nacional, porque hace participes de la creación de leyes nacionales a gobiernos extranjeros.

Lo antes expuesto, sólo nos confirma lo que siempre hemos sabido: “Que existe un plan premeditado y calculado, para cerrar las puertas, los oídos y los ojos al reclamo del pueblo y a los graves problemas que viven las comunidades donde hay proyectos mineros en marcha; mientras se abren las puertas a una nueva fase de destrucción masiva de nuestros recursos que con seguridad generaran mayor pobreza, agotamiento de los recursos naturales, enfermedades y muerte, por las decisiones de funcionarios inescrupulosos y desalmados, que al facilitar la entrega de nuestro territorio y nuestros recursos a las transnacionales mineras, están condenando a la presente y futuras generaciones”.

Reyes Avelar y Rolando Dubón Bueso, se han confabulado con los funcionarios de SERNA y DEFOMIN, para cabildear una Ley de Minería lesiva a los intereses del pueblo Hondureño, lo que sin lugar a ninguna duda, dará paso a una mayor conflictividad en nuestras comunidades, dispuestas a hacer lo que sea necesario para defender sus territorios, sus recursos y sus medios de vida, ante el despojo que significa la llegada de corporaciones transnacionales mineras, amparadas bajo la ley que estos personajes están dispuestos a aprobar, a espaldas del pueblo Hondureño.

Como organizaciones sociales, exigimos al Congreso Nacional, dejar a un lado su prepotencia, e iniciar un proceso abierto y transparente de participación, en el que la ciudadanía Hondureña tiene mucho que aportar.

Finalmente queremos insistir en que nuestras comunidades han expresado su intención de defender sus recursos naturales frente a las explotaciones mineras, forestales e hidroeléctricas; por tanto: responsabilizamos al Congreso nacional y al Poder Ejecutivo de los conflictos que con seguridad surgirán, al aprobarse al margen de la voluntad popular, una ley de minería que desconoce y niega los derechos humanos básicos de nuestra población.

Tegucigalpa M.D.C. 23 de abril del 2012