Over the years
Development and Peace has been supporting projects in Honduras since the 1970s, when our work began with Quebec missionaries in the country. After Hurricane Mitch swept through Honduras in 1998, killing 7,000 and leaving 1.5 million people homeless, Development and Peace coordinated a major reconstruction effort and worked with Church partners to organize a high level of citizen participation and leadership in the process. The program gave rise to the creation of hundreds of civilian committees working with the Church in affected dioceses, particularly in the south of the country. These committees are still active today, and drawing on their past experience, they are key participants in the projects we fund today.
After Hurricane Mitch, Canada was very involved in a controversial scheme to attract foreign mining investment to Honduras. Specifically, Canada participated in the development of a new mining law that Church leaders described as “putting the country on a silver platter and offering it to investors, to the detriment of our communities, for nothing.” This law paved the way for the arrival of scores of Canadian mining companies, whose operations left corruption, environmental destruction and displacement of communities in their wake.
Today, the communities we work with are fighting against mega-projects that are displacing them from their land. Our successes in Honduras lie largely in our long, historic presence in the country and our experience in accompanying communities over a long period.
Our current projects promote the dignity of poor Hondurans by:
- empowering communities to use Honduran and international laws to defend their land from mega-projects and their right to live in a healthy environment and produce food;
- raising the profile and defending the civil and political rights of land defenders (see, for example, the story of Víctor Vásquez);
- promoting women’s rights and equality;
- fostering and promoting freedom of the press, high-quality journalistic coverage and a healthy national debate on current affairs, including justice, equality and the inclusion of marginalized and discriminated communities (see, for example, the story of Sonia Pérez);
- tackling impunity by pressing the authorities to bring to justice those responsible for human rights abuses and to expose corruption rackets that threaten the rights of poor communities; and
- promoting the rights of minorities, including Indigenous and Garifuna peoples, through public education.
Part of our work in Honduras is currently being carried out by the Voices Without Borders in Defence of Lives and Lands project, thanks to funding from the Government of Quebec’s NQSF (Nouveau Québec sans frontières) program. The project is training rural grassroots radio correspondents who report on issues related to human rights, land and territory.
Since the country is now led by a government whose policies were shaped by the social and human rights movements, our partners can look to the future with greater hope. The new government has cancelled new open-pit mining concessions and is committed to respecting laws that protect rural, including Indigenous, communities’ rights to remain on their lands. The government is also committed to tackling the scourge of corruption that has stifled the country’s development. Yet many legislative challenges remain, as many laws are still outdated and favour business elites. Also, attitudinal changes will be necessary to promote human rights, inclusion and development in many sectors. Machismo is still a deeply rooted attitudinal problem, as is discrimination against Honduran minorities, including Indigenous and Garifuna communities. Sexual violence against women remains common, and there is a need to change deeply rooted attitudes.
In this context, Development and Peace will continue to support Hondurans in their struggle for development and greater respect of their dignity and rights.
Economic and political context in which we accompany the Honduran people
Out of 189 countries in the 2021–22 Human Development Index, Honduras is ranked 137th. In individual terms, this means 7 in 10 Hondurans live in poverty, and almost 5 in extreme poverty. Such poverty has doubtless contributed to a persistent trend of migration. Since October 2018, migrants have started to travel in highly publicized caravans to reduce their risks. Currently, the remittances sent by Hondurans living abroad to their families represent 18% of the Honduran GDP.
The Category 4 hurricanes Eta and Iota hit the north coast of Honduras in November 2020. The most severe natural phenomena to hit the country in 20 years, they left 91 people dead and 600,000 families affected, with more than 56,000 forced into temporary shelters. It is estimated that the flooding and destroyed infrastructure caused US$1.8 million in damages, compounding the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighting Honduras’ extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.
In November 2021, Honduras elected its first woman president, Xiomara de Castro, leader of the progressive Libre party. Her election was met with joyful celebrations by Hondurans who had struggled against the human rights violations, corruption and drug trafficking of the presidency of Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is currently in prison in the United States on drugs and weapons charges.
Mrs. Castro inherited the legacy of a 2009 coup d’état against her husband, Manuel Zelaya, who is not allowed to run for a second term as president under the constitution. The 2009 coup was followed by a severe crackdown on social movements, women’s organizations, the human rights sector and the media. Nearly 15 years after the coup, the country’s institutions remain weakened by the corrupt practices of the Hernandez administration, cities are ravaged by gang violence, and anti-democratic laws stifle the social movements and muzzle the press.
The poorest people have been directly impacted by successive corruption scandals, including the former administration’s embezzlement of public funds earmarked for health care and food production in order to fund political campaigns. The Hernandez administration also handed out hundreds of concessions of territory and natural resources for extractive projects — including logging, gas drilling, monoculture farming for export, and mining — to its political supporters in the business elite. When communities are evicted from their lands by such projects, they are forced into a life of indigence, squatting in often environmentally dangerous areas with no services, and often swelling the ranks of the urban poor in cities, where they are vulnerable to criminal gangs.
The Hernandez government actively promoted megaprojects in mining, logging, and hydro-electric and solar power as the solution to poverty. Instead, those projects have left murders and land evictions in their wake, particularly in Indigenous and Garifuna communities. Some examples are:
- the 2016 assassination of Lenca leader Berta Caceres, who opposed a hydro electric project;
- the July 2020 disappearance of four Garifuna land defenders who were kidnapped from their homes by men in police uniforms; and
- the murder of around 100 leaders of the 20,000-strong Tolupan ethnic group, from the north of Honduras, in cases linked to the defence of human rights.
Today, it is still common for defenders of the environment to be criminalized on trumped-up charges by a biased judiciary put in place by the former administration.