Honduran activist vows to continue efforts to defend environment

Ana Mirian Romero given Front Line Defenders Award in Dublin for efforts to prevent dam

Honduran human rights defender Ana Mirian Romero. Photograph: Conor McCabe

Honduran human rights defender Ana Mirian Romero. Photograph: Conor McCabe

 

Ana Mirian Romero stepped off the plane in Dublin airport last week, her first time travelling outside Honduras.

Two days later, she stood on a podium in Dublin’s City Hall and spoke to hundreds of people of the assault, death threats and armed raids she had endured in her home country.

“We don’t fight, we defend,” said the human rights activist from the La Paz region in southwest Honduras. “We defend the river, the forests, and the pure air that we breathe.

“That is all we want – land, air and water that is not contaminated by the dams. We are persecuted and threatened for this, but we do it for our children’s future.”

Romero was in Dublin to accept the 2016 Front Line Defenders Award for her efforts to prevent a hydroelectric dam being built on her community’s ancestral lands.

Less than 24 hours before being presented with the award by former president Mary Robinson, Romero sat in a Dublin apartment cradling her four-month-old daughter Priscilla.

From 2010-2014, 101 environmental activists were killed in Honduras making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world to fight for the environment, according to a study by NGO Global Witness.

Since a coup d’etat in 2009, the Honduran government has approved hundreds of dam projects. Nearly 30 per cent of the country’s land has been earmarked for mining concessions.

In 2010, Romero and other members of the Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz filed a lawsuit to force the recognition of their land titles after the local municipality granted permission for the installation of a hydroelectric dam.

As a result, Romero, her family and other members of the indigenous movement have been attacked by police, military and armed civilians connected to the hydroelectric company.

In October 2015, some 30 armed individuals raided Romero’s home while she and her four children were sleeping. Her husband was in hiding at the time. Romero, who was six months pregnant, was assaulted and ended up in hospital fearing for her baby’s life.

“They arrived into the house and shouted at me to put my hands in the air. They shouted vulgarities at me – words I cannot repeat – and grabbed me by the neck.”

Home destroyed

Romero survived with minor injuries, but a few weeks later she and her daughters were threatened by armed aggressors. In January 2015, a group destroyed the family’s home in an arson attack.

This past March, Berta Cáceres, an Honduran indigenous and environmental rights campaigner was murdered. Her death prompted international outrage at the treatment of campaigners in Honduras.

Romero says the Honduran government is feeling the pressure more than ever to clamp down on impunity and bring transparency to crimes against human rights defenders.

“This prize will not invite complacency from me,” she vowed. “I will not stop my fight. I feel stronger and more courageous now with this international support.”