According to protesters, about 100 regular police and riot squad agents used tear gas and live ammunition on May 23 to break up a demonstration by members of the indigenous Lenca community of San Antonio Chuchuitepeque in the northwestern Honduran department of Santa Bárbara. A number of protesters were injured and five were arrested, according to Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores, the coordinator of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), who was present at the demonstration.
For some 50 days Lenca communities in the area have been protesting the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, which is being built by the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) with the help of $24.4 million from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE). The dam will run with water from the Ulúa River, a tributary of the Gualcarque River. The indigenous communities are protesting the use of their territories and the exploitation of natural resources without prior consultation with the local population. They accuse the mayor of San Francisco de Ojuera municipality of complicity with the companies and of invading their lands. Cáceres warned of the possibility of further violence against the indigenous groups. (Adital, Brazil, May 24 from Lista Informativa Nicaragua y Más (LINyM))
On May 24, one day after the attack on the protest, a group of about 20 soldiers stopped a COPINH vehicle in which Cáceres was riding with another member of the organization, radio communicator Tómas Gómez Membreño. After an exhaustive search of the car, the soldiers claimed to have found an illegal firearm and arrested the two activists. Cáceres and Gómez were released the next day, but Cáceres has a trial date set for June 13; she is not allowed to leave the country and is required to register with the court once a week. Defense attorney Marcelino Martínez said the weapon was planted to inculpate the COPINH leader. (COPINH press release, May 26, via Kaos en la Red)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 26.
Correction: The article originally gave May 25 as the date of Cáceres and Gómez Membreño’s arrest.