Early in 2018, the crystalline Guapinol River that runs through Carlos Escaleras Mejia National Park, in northern Honduras, turned into a river of mud. The muddied waters could be traced to the activities of a mining company, ‘Inversión Los Pinares.’
Unknown to the communities of Guapinol, the company had been granted a licence by the government to operate in the park despite the fact that the area was protected by law.
In August 2018, the people of Guapinol began to organise protests to stop the mining company’s activities. They wanted proper consultation and to protect their river – a vital source of freshwater for the community.
People from the surrounding communities quickly came to show their support. At one of the protests, private security guards employed by the company fired at the demonstrators. One bullet hit a young man in the back and punctured his lung. He was taken to hospital for emergency surgery.
On 27 October 2018, some 1,500 police and army officials descended on the community of Guapinol to stop the protests. Soon after the arrival of the police in October 2018, the public prosecutor issued warrants for the arrest of 31 members of the Guapinol community. They were charged with offences including damaging property, false imprisonment, theft, aggravated arson and unlawful association.
A first group of community members handed themselves in to clarify their legal position with respect to the case in February 2019. All charges were quickly dropped against them. A further eight of the accused also handed themselves in a few months later, but paradoxically, the judge issued a pre-trial detention order.
No evidence of the alleged crimes having taken place was presented, not to mention evidence of their involvement in those alleged crimes. Despite this fact, they were denied bail and even transferred to a maximum-security prison.
Since then, lawyers have managed to get them transferred to a prison closer to their homes, but bail continues to be denied and the community activists can expect to spend some two to three years in prison awaiting trial.