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A Win in Honor of Berta Carceres? Investors Pull Funding from Controversial Project

Three major investors have pulled funding of the Aguq Zarca hydroelectric project since the murder of Berta Caceres, but indigenous say it’s taking too long.
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In the last year, major investors in the development project that Lenca activist Berta Caceres was fighting before she was murdered have announced their withdrawal from the project, but Honduran Indigenous activists are questioning the delay in the termination of that funding.

Starting in March of 2016 both the Netherlands Development Finance Co. (FMO) and FinnFund announced they would suspend funding of the DESA Corp.'s Agua Zarca hydroelectric project in Honduras.

The decision came two weeks after the murder of Indigenous activist Nelson Garcia and almost three weeks after the murder of Lenca leader and activist Caceres, both of whom were leaders of the opposition to the project.


Then, in June of this year, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) stated they were ending their participation as well.

"The bank is no longer funding this project," said CABEI Spokesman Juan Mourra. "Nor is there any intention to further invest in the project. Each bank is going to have their own exit strategy. Our bank stopped all disbursements."

These three institutions—the FMO, FinnFund and CABEI—had pledged $44 million in funding of the Agua Zarca project by the DESA Corp.

However, activists in the National Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations (COPINH), formerly lead by Caceres, are denouncing the incomplete withdrawal of the funders from the project.

On June 13, COPINH issued a press statement entitled The Banks' Trap.

"The COPINH must denounce, again, the lack of the exit of the banks and the prolongation of the time of the exit means the prolongation of the aggressions and intimidations against the community.

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"The supposed responsible exit has been a strategy to not assume its responsibilities and, to the contrary, to facilitate future hydroelectric projects similar to Agua Zarca in the zone."

COPINH noted the recent announcement that CABEI would also be leaving the project but "...nevertheless, as of today they have not officially left from investing in the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project."

The COPINH statement went on to condemn the investors' past support of the project and recent efforts to create a dialogue aimed at working with the community on other projects, which the activists asserted, had already been rejected by the community.

Neither CABEI nor FinnFund responded when asked for further comment but on June 23 a representative of FMO did say the bank was going to be providing more information at some point in the future.

"FMO suspended all disbursements to the Agua Zarca project in May 2016," said Christiaan Buijnsters of the FMO. "At that time, we also stated that FMO would seek a responsible and legal exit from the project. We intend to finalize this exit of the project as soon as possible. However, project financing being a complicated field, many aspects and issues have to be cleared from e.g. contractual and responsibility perspectives. We understand the public interest in this topic and our exit, and will make more information public as soon as it is possible."

News of the investors' controversy emerged in the same week as the Preliminary Hearing for four of the men accused of murdering Caceres.

The former Director of Security for DESA Douglas Bustillo, Army Major Mariano Diaz, former DESA official Sergio Rodriguez and alleged gang member Elvin Rapalo were formally accused of the murder of the environmentalist and attempted murder of a protected witness at the Preliminary Hearing on Wednesday, June 7.

Bustillo and Diaz had an expedited hearing due to admitting that they participated in the murder.

Among those in attendance of the preliminary hearing were Miguel Albero Suarez, the Spanish Ambassador to Honduras, and Ketil Karlsen, a representative of the European Union.

Officials have asserted that there were eight people involved in the murder and authorities are reportedly seeking the "intellectual authors" of the crime.