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Business and Human Rights

“One of the bravest people I have ever met is in danger”

I walked with Rosalina to the river, passing banana trees and communal land where families work together to grow corn and beans, just like their ancestors did.

She told me, “I’m a very threatened woman but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stay quiet. I’m still talking.”

Rosalina Dominguez (49) is a mother, community leader and human rights activist from Honduras.

In the past month, she has been threatened on two occasions, including once by an armed group. But this isn’t the first time Rosalina or her community have been threatened.

She is in danger of further attacks. Trócaire are looking for supporters to take action to demand that Rosalina is protected.

I met Rosalina in February in Honduras. She lives in Río Blanco, an indigenous Lenca community in the lush, mountainous terrain of western Honduras.  

I visited the community with Trócaire colleagues to find out about their long struggle against corporate power. Rosalina’s community are opposing the construction of a hydroelectric dam along the Gualcarque River.

“Our river is our very life”

Rosalina explained that the Lenca people consider the river to be sacred. “Our river is our very life,” she said. Its clean water is vital for drinking, cooking, bathing and medicine. If built, the dam would have changed the flow of the river. “They were going to leave the river dry to us,” she said.

Despite the threat to their way of life and the environment, the community were never consulted about the project. The first they knew something was happening was when large trucks arrived.

The company responsible for the project is Honduran, Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA). The license was one of hundreds granted for mining, logging and hydroelectric developments after the 2009 military coup, and the project attracted investment from international sources.

Berta Cáceres

At the river edge, Rosalina told me about her close friend, Berta Cáceres, who lead the community’s opposition to the dam and was co-founder of Trócaire’s partner, the Confederation of Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH).

Berta was an internationally-renowned activist but that did not protect her from harassment and attacks.

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The grave of murdered human rights defender, Berta Caceres. Photo : Garry Walsh

It was 5am on 3rd March 2016 when Rosalina awoke to hear the news that Berta had been shot dead. “I went everywhere with Berta… [her death] was a huge grief for us.”

“She’ll be remembered as a warrior, for our river and for our territory… She’s not dead; she’s alive… Every time we come to the river, we feel like we are walking with her.”

Rosalina continues to be inspired by Berta. In a conservative, macho society, she said Berta gave women a focus “to talk about the rights that we have… we have to know our worth and know also what we are part of – we are human rights defenders”.

Despite the loss of Berta, the community have stayed strong and have managed to halt the progress of the dam’s construction. International investors have pulled out of the project. Rosalina herself travelled to Europe to meet directly with investors and tell them what had happened to her community. The dam project is now frozen but the license has not been revoked and the community fear it will start again.

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Jeannie McCann visited the Gualcarque river with a Trócaire delegation and met Rosalina and other members of the Rio Blanco community. Photo : Garry Walsh

Strength to continue fighting

We said farewell to Rosalina beside a 300-year-old oak tree, which is known in the community as the ‘oak’. It marks the closest point that vehicles can get to the riverbank, which is still an hour’s walk away along a dirt path.

Over the years, the tree must have been scene of many acts of peaceful resistance by the community. “If that oak could talk,” Rosalina’s friend Maria Gomez (65) told me.

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Rosalina beside a 300-year-old oak tree, which is known in the community as the ‘oak’. Photo : Giulia Vuillermoz

Rosalina and her community speak truth to power with dignity and determination. They appealed for international support and solidarity. It “gives us the strength we need to feel more encouraged to continue fighting,” she said.

Rosalina is brave, strong and resilient. After last month’s threats, she fears a new wave of attacks is starting.

Rosalina knows her life is in danger. She needs your voice.

Demand protection for Rosalina and her community now.

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