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I was reminded in the past week of one of the things that can easily be taken for granted in doing this work. I went up into the mountains in Quimistan, Santa Barbara to visit Kevin Ramirez. He has been protesting and organizing against hydroelectric projects in his and surrounding communities since 2011. He also was active in organizing for LIBRE in 2012/13. He received death threats for his activism and his wife had a machete held to her throat by a neighbor who warned her that if Kevin didn’t keep his mouth shut he would come back to cut her throat. Armed men have entered his house looking for him and unknown men stand in front of his house at times looking around for him. He was forced to flee and go into hiding for a short time.
In late September of 2015 he received protective measures from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) which states that the government of Honduras must provide protection for Kevin and his family. In Honduras this is mostly symbolic since the government is behind the threats. The nearest police station to Kevin’s community is 2 hours away. A police patrol has visited his house twice in the 3 months since he was granted the order from the IACHR. Kevin feels little comfort in being protected by the municipal police who take orders from the Mayor who is in favor of the Hydroelectric Project as is the Mayor’s mother who is a Congresswoman in the National Congress, both are members of the National Party which has enriched itself from these types of projects.
Kevin stated that he has been overwhelmed by the attention that he has gotten largely in part to the members of ERIC-SJ that live in SB and who brought his case to the attention of ERIC’s lawyers who solicited the IACHR for the protective. Kevin said to me that when he heard that I was coming to visit him he thought, “Why does this gringo want to come here? Why would he care about what is going on here?” But when I arrived, along with members of ERIC, and he saw how the community reacted to having outsiders visiting who were interested in their struggles to stop the contamination of their river, he understood that the solidarity was what was going to support the community through the struggle. He said that having an international presence in the community helped them all to not feel alone in this struggle. He also said that he watched for the reaction of the neighbor who made the threats when this big tall gringo walked passed the neighbor’s house and stayed for several days in the community. The neighbor’s expression went from suspicion to worry and then the neighbor smiled nervously at Kevin. It was the 1st smile, albeit an anxious one, that they had exchanged in 3 years.
This is what on-the-ground international accompaniment provides, a safe space for Honduran activists and communities to continue the struggle for dignity as they fight for the right to clean natural resources. It lets communities know that they are not struggling alone against the ruling elite who want to sell off the rivers and the land. It provides safety to those who have been directly threatened.
I will submit a more detailed report of Kevin, his community, and the surrounding communities that are fighting against the privatization of their rivers. You can help by supporting this work.
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