Following months of public pressure, Voith-Hydro is the latest company to quit the controversial Agua Zarca dam project in Honduras. But why was Oxfam calling on them to do so? And how did Oxfam supporters help make this happen?
On 3 March 2016, the world was shocked by the brutal murder of land activist Berta Cáceres in Honduras. Berta led the peaceful opposition to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric power project, because it threatened a river that is sacred to the indigenous Lenca people and an important source of water, food, and medicine. For this, she paid with her life.
Justice for Berta
But as activists in Honduras chanted in response to her death, “Berta didn’t die – she multiplied”. Berta’s murder sparked a new wave of activism against the Agua Zarca project. This struggle was led by Berta’s family and the indigenous rights organisation she founded (COPINH), despite their grief and the threats to their life.
Within days of Berta’s death, Oxfam launched a campaign calling on the investors and companies involved in the project to withdraw. We demanded that the development banks funding the project (FMO, FinnFund and CABEI) and the company supplying the turbines (Voith Hydro) respect international human rights standards and act accordingly. We felt that this was the biggest contribution we could make to continuing Berta’s fight, harnessing the power of Oxfam supporters and utilising our experience from previous campaigns.
The public response was huge. Hundreds of thousands of Oxfam supporters signed the petition, watched the campaign video, and posted online. We know that the companies we urged to withdraw from the project took note of this.
After months of campaigning by Oxfam and allies, in July 2017 FMO and Finnfund announced they were doing the right thing and quitting the project. And just days ago, turbine-supplier to the project, Voith Hydro, finally confirmed they were also pulling out.
Victory for people power
This is a huge victory for people power. The power of Berta Cáceres, a brave and committed activist. The power of Berta’s family and COPINH activists in Honduras, who keep resisting despite the danger. And the power of ordinary people including Oxfam supporters, who took a stand against injustice.
The fight isn’t over. One of the investors has still not quit the project. The intellectual authors behind Berta’s murder have not been investigated nor brought to justice. Court cases around the legality of the project continue. Land activists in Honduras and elsewhere continue to face death threats and intimidation. In short, there’s a lot more work to do.
But for now, we can take a moment to remember Berta Cáceres, and to recognise the power that we have when we come together.
This entry posted by Georgi York (@georgiyork), Oxfam's GROW Campaign Strategist, on 15 August 2017.