Alongside the Honduras Solidarity Network, YLNM member group Rights Action are calling for support to pressure Aura Minerals Inc, a Canadian mining company, over their use of intimidation tactics in the community of Azacualpa, Honduras. Read this primer, watch the video and learn how to take action.
In April 2014, the community of Azacualpa blocked the entrance of the San Andres mine in La Unión, Copan, in western Honduras. The open-pit gold mine is owned by Minerales de Occidente, a subsidiary of Toronto-based mining company, Aura Minerals who acquired the mine in August 2009.
A few weeks after initiating the blockade, the community was violently evicted by Honduran military and police who beat protesters including minors, shot tear gas, and arrested those that stuck around to fight the evict or that lived close to where it took place. Radio Progreso reports that various people were arrested and 21 community members face charges requiring them to sign before a Honduran judge every month.
According to a community member that asked that her name not be revealed because of the delicate security situation in the area: “A large group from the community and former employees of the mine blocked the entrance of the mine for .. some days, 15 days. The company refused to negotiate, they told us that they had nothing to say to us. The military arrived, beat, and captured some people .. I think 15 people, but I’m not sure, many were injured”
A 20-minute video shot on a community member’s cell phone (that is shaky and needs some editing) caught and recorded the eviction:
Upon initiating the blockade, the residents of Azacualpa were protesting the expansion of the mining operation, including a potential threat that operations would expand into the community’s cemetery. According to Radio Progreso’s report, the Azacualpa residents agreed to be relocated to a new area before the operations expanded, but since the agreement was reached the company’s commitment failed to materialized. However, despite the relocation agreement, the community leadership says that they did not want the company to operate in the cemetery, where approximately 400 families lay their loved ones to rest.
As Orlando Rodriguez, the Vice President of the patronato (the community leadership) told Radio Progreso:
“They [the mining company] want to exploit the land of the cemetery but the community is not in agreement, we have our public deed that gives us the power to prevent it. They claim that they have permission to exploit 50 metres from the cemetery, we as the elected community leadership decided to consult the people house-by-house and the majority do not agree that the remains in the cemetery are removed, but they have used force because they have militarized the area and continue to exploit.”
Following the eviction, Honduran military remained in the community for approximately three weeks and Aura Minerals continues its operations that a community member described as “very close to the boundaries of the cemetery.”
“They put military soldiers in the cemetery, there are only guards now but yes, after that, a lot of time passed, I think three weeks, that the military was patrolling. There were a lot of military cars patrolling the area. They were going to put up a big gate so that people could not enter [the cemetery].”
Ending a seven-year mining moratorium, the law was approved in January 2013. Mining operations – many of which are owned by transnational corporations – are expanding and/or beginning in various parts of Honduras. Canadian companies like Aura Minerals have directly benefited from the new legal framework that was written with support and assistance from the Canadian government and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Since its approval last year, two legal challenges have been presented against the law and various communities and organizations argue that the process in which the law was written and the law itself, completely ignorethe demands of communities that have and will be affected by mining operations in their territory.
ON 23rd November, Karen Spring of the Honduras Solidarity Network reported:
“I am standing outside the police station in Santa Rosa de Copan (western honduras) where three leaders of the community of Azacualpa are being illegally detained. The leaders are part of a peaceful community initiative to block the expansion of Toronto-based Aura Minerals’ (Honduran subsidiary: MINOSA) San AndrÃ©s gold mine into the community cemetery that the community has insisted that they will defend if the company tries to enter.
The 3 community leaders – Orlando Rodriguez, Gerano Rodriguez and Miguel Lopez – along with 7 other members (mostly members of the Azacualpa Environmental Committee) were followed after leaving a meeting with local and international human rights defenders in Santa Rosa de Copan and detained at a police check point suspected to have been placed specifically to harass and detain them.
The 3 leaders remained detained under what is thought/rumoured to be charges of usurpation, extortion, invasion of private property, and one other charge that is unknown (because they won’t let me go in and ask). Miguel Lopez and 18 other leaders from the community have been criminalized previously and are required to sign before a judge as a result of a 6- day road blockade and violent eviction by Honduran police in April 2014.
As of 2 pm this afternoon (Nov.23), when the Committee’s lawyer spoke with the public prosecutor, there were no charges pressed against those detained. This is a clear act of criminalization exercised by the Honduran police and judicial authorities acting on behalf of Aura Minerals.”