Control at the local level
Pedro Landa, deputy director of Caritas Tegucigalpa works to ensure local people have more control over their lives and can make their voices heard by the Honduran government
Mining is a lucrative industry in Honduras but, far from being the salvation of the people, the lives of many communities are being ruined because of it.
The Honduran government is currently investigating health problems such as respiratory or skin diseasesin the area to see to what extent they are caused by the mine. Water supplies have been contaminated, and some communities have even had to be relocated.
Several of these problems could be tackled with the right investment, but the Honduran government does not receive much benefit from mining in the country, keeping taxes low to encourage investment. In addition, some tax can be written off to spending on community projects and infrastructure. Just one per cent of profits go to local authorities.
Since this work started people are more aware of environmental issues, and the government and the press are now taking these issues more seriously too
Change is needed, and Caritas Tegucigalpa has been pushing to reform mining laws, to respect local communities and the environment.
Pedro analyses which areas of the country need the most investment, and says local economies and the development of middle-sized towns must take priority over the big cities.
“These areas suffer from high unemployment and lack of investment. The two main cities get most of the investment.
“There are regulations but they are either weak or obsolete and in many cases do not favour the rural communities.”
A dual role
Pedro, who is also President of the Civic Alliance for the Reform of Mining Law, finds himself working at both ends of the development scale.
He combines the management of projects at the grassroots in poor communities and teaching the local people about the law with negotiating and lobbying Congress for reforms to be approved.
Thanks to the work of the Civic Alliance, a new mining law has reached Congress, although there remain final hurdles to overcome before it is finally passed. In the meantime, the government has agreed not to grant concessions for new mining projects for one year until a decision has been made about changes to the law.
“The work of Caritas has created a space for discussion and debate between government and civil society organisations. I often represent the Church in those spaces,” he says.
Caritas continues to work closely with communities affected by mining. As well as repairing wells, pumps and pipes damaged by natural disasters, it has drilled more than 3,000 wells, and installed aqueducts and latrines.
It also helps communities to set up local water councils, and trains members in the maintenance and operation of the water infrastructure.
For example, in the Valle de Siria where the San Martin mine is located, it carried out research into water contamination within the mining community, and improved drinking water and sanitation.
Pedro and others raise awareness of these issues and help parishes get involved in campaigning.
I believe that CAFOD supporters understand that helping people living in less economically developed countries also helps themselves
“We try to promote the social and economic well being of the people” he says, “so that they can contribute more to participatory democracy and especially so that local communities can make decisions about their own lives.”
As well as mining, Honduras has a wealth of precious woods such as cedar and mahogany but much of this is extracted illegally. Caritas is working to change the laws regarding this too.
“Since this work started people are more aware of environmental issues, and the government and the press are now taking these issues more seriously too.
“The main change is that people are discussing with the authorities more and negotiating. It will be a while before we see real social and economic change.
“CAFOD has shown solidarity with us. I believe that CAFOD supporters understand that helping people living in less economically developed countries also helps themselves.
“It gives them the opportunity to feel satisfied that they are doing something worthwhile for other people. I hope they will continue supporting CAFOD.”
Encouraging local fair trade
Caritas also works with communities encouraging them to trade with each other, strengthening informal economies and supporting micro-credit schemes to help small-scale farmers and small businesses.
Improving the quality of their produce is also crucial as the country struggles to compete in a marketplace which favours the farmers from the US.
This world belongs to everyone so we all have the right to have what we need to be happy
“American farmers receive a high level of subsidies and benefit from better technology and land conditions,” Pedro explains.
“Honduran producers cannot compete with them. They need to raise their standards for their products to be accepted in North American markets.
“At the moment they do not have the infrastructure or economic resources to do this. Many businesses will either collapse or be taken over by US companies.”
This unfair competition is not helped by the Central American Free Trade Area agreement, which has forced countries like Honduras to open up their markets further to US companies. The agreement came into force in April 2006, despite opposition from various groups, including Caritas.
This means that the local community work is now even more vital. Caritas also works closely with labour union workers and international networks such as Via Campesina (which supports small producers worldwide).
But much more is needed. Pedro says: “This world belongs to everyone so we all have the right to have what we need to be happy.
“If society has forgotten this, we need to work to make sure everyone has what they need. Put simply, another world is possible.”