Peace & Justice
From left: Sr. Reg McKillip with the people of Honduras
Two Different Experiences,
Three Similar Conclusions
by Reg McKillip, OP
In December, I participated in a delegation to Honduras sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and the SHARE Foundation. Its purpose was to accompany communities struggling to protect their water and land from extractive industries and to meet with environmentalists persecuted for organizing to save the rivers and defend their “right to NOT migrate.”
The story I have to share is the same story that has been told for years by our Sisters who have been in Latin America. Simply put, a large corporation takes over land and pushes off the people living there. As a result, the people lose their livelihood. The government is either in cahoots with the corporation or is too weak to fight the power of the corporation. When the local people resist and fight, they are murdered by people hired by the corporation. The corporation wins, the people lose. This story has been lived out for decades all over Latin America.
My story involves the company Inversiones Los Pinares-Ekotek, a Honduran-owned company that has built a mine illegally in the Carlos Escaleras National Park, an important watershed and protected area. The chemical outputs of the mine—cyanide, arsenic, and mercury—have polluted the Guapinol and the San Pedro Rivers, thus destroying the livelihood of the people living in the villages along the rivers. This also has larger ramifications on other sources of water extending all the way to the Caribbean Sea.
We traveled to a village amid the tropical mountain forest. From there, we were led up a trail to a beautiful waterfall (pictured at left) just inside the boundaries of Carlos Escaleras National Park about four miles from the mine where we met with environmentalists persecuted for organizing to save the rivers, and we heard their fear. Since January 2023, three environmentalist and land defenders have been killed. They shared their frustration that the government is doing nothing to help them, and we learned of current threats on the lives of community leaders. They cried, “We have a right not to migrate!” Yet, they cannot live with poisoned waters.
The local communities never gave their permission to have a mine. In fact, they were never even consulted and are still waiting for responses to their petitions on the cancellation of the mining concessions from the president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro.
I had the privilege to represent women religious in a videoconference with US Ambassador to Honduras Laura Dogu. I was joined by Jean Stoken and Mary Ann Perrone who have extensive experience in Central America. Ambassador Dogu listened to our concerns and was very impressed with Jean and Mary Ann’s experience. However, she was not very understanding or open to our main message: the United States needs to withdraw support of the development model that focuses on the extractive industry, which is destructive of the environment and displaces the people from their land. The Honduran people should be able to choose their own models of sustainable economic development, even if these collide with powerful private economic interests.
After Honduras, I went to Montreal, Canada, to attend part of the COP15 United Nations (UN) Biodiversity Conference. I joined Mary Catherine Rice, OP, and our Dominican representative at the UN in New York, Dusty Farnan, OP. COP15 involved representatives from the governments around the world and people from civil society who are affected by the decisions made by their governments.
I know my experience in Honduras informed my experience at COP15. I carried with me the faces of the Honduran people who shared their stories of struggle. I heard very similar stories that helped me to understand what is happening to the people of Honduras is not only happening in Latin America but to people all over the world.
I was impressed with the number of indigenous people at COP15 and their demand to be at the table and included in decisions that affect them. They pointed out their right for free, prior informed consent, which allows indigenous people to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories.
Interestingly, my three takeaways from my time in Honduras and COP15 are the same.
1. Indigenous and local people have a right to be involved in decisions that affect them and their ability to provide for their families.
2. There is a need for governments and civil society to hold corporations accountable for their role in destroying the environment and causing poverty, violence, and migration. The hypocrisy of the United States and other developed countries became so clear to me. On the one hand, they pledged a significant amount of money to support biodiversity, and, on the other, they continue to provide subsidies to large oil, gas, and agricultural companies that are destroying biodiversity.
3. All of us—governments, corporations, and people—must do things differently if we want the human race to survive for future generations. We are running out of time!