Activists Taking on Hydroelectric Projects Face Persecution, Assassination

Photo by Orin Langelle. Hydro-Quebec dam in Cree territory (1993) in James Bay, Canada.

This week, Pablo Solon will be summoned for his first declaration before a prosecutor and could potentially be placed into preventative detention. Solon, Director of Fundación Solon, former Executive Director of Focus on the Global South, and former Bolivian Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), is being targeted by the Bolivian government for his vocal criticism of the government and the construction of two hydro-electric projects, El Bala and El Chapete in the Amazonian region.

From Focus on the Global South:

Solon resigned as Bolivia’s UN Ambassador in June 2011, and was succeeded by the Deputy Permanent Representative, Rafael Archondo. Archondo a very well known journalist, served as the interim representative for 14 months, until Sacha Llorenti, who was Minister of Government in September 2011 during the repression of the indigenous peoples’ march in defense of the National Park and Indigenous Territory of TIPNIS, was appointed as the new UN Ambassador.

The Vice Ministry of Transparency and Anti-Corruption has now decided to bring criminal charges with jail sentences of up to 4 years against Solon and Archondo, alleging that Solón “illegally appointed” Archondo and that Archondo committed the crime of “prolonging functions.” Both the accused have publicly responded showing that Archondo was appointed by the President of Bolivia as Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN and that he did not prolong in his functions.

Based on the studies done by Geodata, an Italian company hired by the government to identify where the dams will be built, Solon says they will “inundate an area five times larger than the city of La Paz, displace more than five thousand indigenous peoples, deforest more than one hundred thousand hectares and will not be profitable for the country with the current prices of electricity in Brazil.”

Salon says the most important thing is to link any statements of solidarity with him with denunciations of the proposed mega dam projects of Chepete and El Bala as that is the reason the government is making these false criminal accusations. It is also a deeply damaging project, socially and environmentally, that must be stopped. This week, Pablo is making his own formal complaint to the same Ministry that is accusing him (the Ministry of Justice and Transparency), asking them to investigate two contracts between the public state electric company ENDE and the Italian consultancy firm Geodata. Geodata’s own studies have shown that the projects are economically unviable and yet they are recommending their implementation.

According to Pablo, the following are good actions to take:

Suggested messaging that could be used in emails, letters and social media posts include: 

  • Solidarity with Pablo Solon and Rafael Archondo
  • The dams of El Bala and Chepete are unfeasible
  • Investigate the contract between Geodata and ENDE
  • The government of Bolivia must hear the voice of the river

It is also important to note the accusations against Pablo are not isolated; in fact a whole host of activist leaders, journalists and ex-government employees have been threatened with trial or had their organisations closed in recent years. Threats against climate activists fighting against hydroelectric dam projects have escalated to violence and death. In 2016, Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) released the following as part of a statement on the assassination of activist Berta Cáceres:

We know with certainty that the murder of Berta Cáceres was a political assassination meant to silence a national leader in the struggle against the neoliberal development model, based on destruction and death, imposed by the Honduran state. We hold the Honduran state and the political and economic elites responsible for seeking to silence Berta Cáceres’ struggle in defense of the environment, the indigenous Lenca people, and especially the Gualcarque River where the DESA company is trying for a second time to build an illegal and illegitimate mega-hydroelectric dam.

On Friday, 30 June 2017 Cáceres daughter and new COPINH leader Bertha Zuñiga escaped an attack. The Guardian reports that “three assailants tried to attack the COPINH members with machetes after a black pickup truck forced them to stop by blocking the road. They managed to escape, but came under renewed attack as the driver of the pickup tried to force their vehicle off the cliff-edge road.”

A coalition of Bolivian social movements against government repression of movements and dissidents released the following statement in response to the government’s targeting of Salon. En español abajo.

 “IN DEFENSE OF OUR FUNDAMENTAL CITIZEN RIGHTS”

In our country, it has become a bad habit that governments persecute women and men who defend the rights of Nature and Human Rights. The politics of fear has become all too common, seeking to silence the voices that become more every day and are gathering strength. It has become all too common to use the politics of terror and intimidation towards those who merely exercise their right to freedom of expression, their right to information, their right to question, analyze and make proposals. Dissent with the government has become a crime.

As in the worst times of the dictatorship, today, we witness a government –  that is supposedly progressive and a defender of the rights of nature – persecuting groups, organizations, indigenous people and any that hold a critical stance or simply those who have dared to expose false words and actions, or the hypocritical politics labelled “living well” that contrasts with the framework of the laws that govern this country. Justice is no long on the side of those who speak out; today justice is on the side of those who destroy Nature.

We are even more indignant at the threat of closure of NGOs and institutions of critical thinking and defenders of rights. We are indignant about the threats of criminal trials for colleagues who have only exercised their rights to inform themselves and share their critiques and the trials of members of groups that defend their rights to a healthy environment. We are indignant at the trials of leaders who have not bowed their heads in defense of their territories, their watersheds and their environment and who have refused to align themselves with the predatory politics of predation and corporate power of economically powerful groups – no matter how this is dressed up as ‘indigenous and popular’.

Today, we denounce the persecution and demand a halt now!

As an Alternative Social Space, we stand in solidarity with our partners Rafael Archondo and Pablo Solón. We stand in solidarity with the Pastoral Social Caritas and the Youth Ministry of Tarija, with  CEDIB in Cochabamba, with the indigenous brothers and sisters of CEPM-B (Central de Pueblos Mojeños del Beni) , who today are starting a march in defense of its territory, the group of communities of the river Beni-Quiquibey, the Coordinator for the Defense of the Amazon, the movements of women who are constantly denouncing state machismo and the increasing violence against women’s bodies, and with independent journalists, among others fighting to defend the future of the country.  Each and every one of these must know that they are not alone and that their struggle is also ours.

We call on the entire Bolivian population to continue resisting and to hold true to the ideals of social change. We demand that the authorities required by law to respond to the people do so and do not become spokesmen for the regime of fear.

ENOUGH! NO MORE PERSECUTIONS

 


En Espanol

ESA: Encuentro Social Alternativo – Pronunciamiento frente a la represión y el hostigamiento de los movimientos y activistas en Bolivia:

POR LA DEFENSA DE NUESTROS DERECHOS FUNDAMENTALES, BASTA! NO MÁS PERSECUCIÓN

En nuestro país se ha hecho una mala costumbre que los gobiernos persigan a  mujeres y hombres que defendemos los derechos de la Naturaleza y los Derechos Humanos, se ha hecho costumbre la política del miedo con la que quieren callar las voces que cada día van sumando y cada día se hacen más fuertes, se ha hecho costumbre la política del terror y del amedrentamiento a quienes sólo ejercen su derecho a la libre expresión, su derecho a la información, su derecho al cuestionamiento, a la interpelación el análisis y la propuesta y se ha convertido en un delito el disentir con el  gobierno.

Como en las peores  épocas de la dictadura hoy, bajo un gobierno supuestamente progresista y defensor de los derechos de la naturaleza, se persiguen a colectivos, organizaciones, indígenas y personas que lideran una postura crítica o simplemente a aquellas que se han atrevido a desnudar un falso discurso, un falso perfil, una hipócrita política del “vivir bien” en el marco de las leyes que rigen en este país. La justicia no es para estos atrevidos, hoy la justicia está del lado de los depredadores de la Naturaleza.

Nos indignamos  aún más ante las amenazas de cierre de ONG’s e instituciones del pensamiento crítico y defensa de los derechos, amenazas de juicios penales a  compañeros que solo han ejercido su derecho de informarse y compartir sus criterios, juicios a miembros de colectivos que defienden su derecho a un medio ambiente sano, juicios a dirigentes que no han bajado la cabeza en la defensa de sus territorios y del cuidado del agua y la naturaleza, que no se han alineado con las políticas de la depredación y el poder corporativo de grupos económicos por más “indígenas y populares que quieran llamarse. Hoy,denunciamos la persecución y exigimos un alto ya!

Como Espacio Social Alternativo nos solidarizamos con los compañeros Rafael Archondo y Pablo Solón, nos solidarizamos con la Pastoral Social CARITAS y la Pastoral Juvenil de Tarija, con el CEDIB, con los hermanos y hermanas indígenas de la CEPM-B (Central de Pueblos Etnicos Mojeños del Ben), que hoy inician una marcha en defensa de su territorio, La Mancomunidad de Comunidades del río Beni-Quiquibey, la Coordinadora para la Defensa de la Amazonía, los movimientos de mujeres que constantemente están denunciando la inconsecuencia, el machismo estatal y la violencia creciente contra sus cuerpos, los periodistas independientes, entre otros luchadores que hoy están defendiendo el futuro del país. . Todos y cada uno de ellos y ellas tienen que saber que no están solos y que su lucha es también la nuestra.

Hacemos un llamado a toda la población boliviana a seguir resistiendo y albergando los ideales de cambio social  y exigimos a las autoridades llamadas por ley a responder por el pueblo y no convertirse en  portavoces del régimen del miedo.

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