Kevin Ramírez is an environmental activist who lives in the community of El Listón, Santa Barbara, the area of Honduras with the most hydroelectric and mining concessions.
Honduras is resource-rich, with abundant supplies of iron, timber, gold, silver, and hydropower. Over the last few years the government has been actively pursuing a model of development based on the sale of land to foreign entities for extractive, hydroelectric and agribusiness projects. In 2013 work began to build hydroelectric dams in the area, which, because of the use of explosives, has created major environmental problems, polluting local water supplies and killing many thousands of fish and other animals.
In addition to the environmental impacts, the hydroelectric project has affected over 15 different communities who have seen their water supplies privatised. Kevin funded ASODEBICOQ, an organisation that helps communities to self-organise and informs them of their rights in the face of mega projects. Since then, Kevin has received many death threats and his wife Dirsa, also a community leader, has been attacked with a knife to her throat. Kevin and Dirsa have protection measures from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and have had to flee the area on several occasions. Unfortunately none of the threats or attacks against them have been investigated. On the contrary, the mayor’s office continues to harass them and have even gone so far as to put a price on their heads.
Unfortunately these situations are endured by environmental defenders all over Honduras, many of whom have faced criminal charges as a result of speaking out. The crime of sedition – the incitement of resistance against lawful authority – is increasingly being used to criminalise protesters. Arrests under this charge lead to immediate detention and there is no presumption of innocence. In most of these cases it takes years to prove the innocence of the person, by which time it is often too late as the company has already moved into the territory.
Kevin and Dirsa, and other community leaders like them, are acutely aware of the risks of the ongoing fight to defend their land, water supplies and common resources. However they continue undeterred to fight for the right of people to have access to their own land and to enjoy a clean environment.