Climate Refugees

Interview: Bertha Isabel Zuniga Cáceres

In the context of the global climate crisis and responses to global climate change—including the investments in renewable energy and clean energy—how do you see this tension between Indigenous communities, corporations, and governments taking shape?

I believe the main problem is that the Honduran government and multinational corporations alike conceive and treat energy as a commodity, and as long as they treat energy as merely a lucrative business investment, the rights of Indigenous people will be undermined. The murder of my mother unveiled the vast range of power that multinational corporations (whether fossil or renewable) exert on society and act with impunity.

In Honduras, producing “renewable” energy is becoming one of the most lucrative businesses in the region for the Honduran businessman who has historically exploited the common goods of the country. However, the response to climate change has to be paired with respect for human rights. Under the logic of excessive consumption, there will never be enough to satisfy the desire to produce energy that we do not need but that is produced to deepen the dispossession of many people. The government is aligning its policies to the interests of the corporations, creating conflict with and violating Indigenous and peasant communities’ rights that, at the end, are set aside.

We know the US government has had a role in Honduran politics for the entirety of the modern history of Central America, including in the 2009 coup, and has fostered issues of extreme poverty and Indigenous dispossession. How might this relationship between the United States and Honduran/ Central American/Latin American politics be understood in the context of the climate crisis and climate-driven displacement?

The United States as a global economic power knows that fossil fuels are in crisis and will be depleted sooner or later. The market cannot be subjected to think a panorama of agony as to the end of fossil fuels. What we, the Indigenous and Central American people, are experiencing is the transition of the energy market that is looking for alternative ways to sustain itself. The United States directs a significant part of the budget for Honduras to “security assistance” and “combating drug trafficking,” which translates into the presence of security forces in the communities that are resisting energy-generating projects. The greatest beneficiary of the free market policies promoted by the United States toward Honduras and Central America is the United States, which cannot survive without the control it has over its adjacent region. The US supremacy in the economic dispute of the world powers has to do with the effective control of the economy and territory of its areas of influence in Latin America and the Caribbean, where it maintains control under a discourse of democracy.

Honduras is part of a logistical corridor that moves goods, raw materials, and drugs to the United States but in which human movement is restricted. Ignoring the impact of climate change and focusing on market-based solutions is hypocritical. These policies, such as relaxing environmental regulations to attract foreign investments, perpetuate dependency and exacerbate the climate crisis, which is generated by excessive production and consumption. These policies affect many communities by forcing them to adapt to precarious conditions and leaving them vulnerable and stripped of control of their territorial sovereignty.

Forced migration has always been a constitutive feature of state and corporate exploitation of natural resources and Indigenous peoples across Honduras, Central America, and Latin America more broadly. How have you seen these dynamics change over time, if they have, and how do you anticipate the climate crisis shaping these dynamics? What experience have “land defenders” had and how do you anticipate that changing in the context of the climate crisis?

Forced displacement has affected urban regions much more than rural ones. What is causing people to Interview Bertha Isabel Zuniga Cáceres General Coordinator of COPINH, the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, Honduras Climate Refugees: The Climate Crisis and Rights Denied 24 migrate is the implementation of an economic model that gives priority to financial gain over our relationship with the land. Climate change may be a factor that worsens the displacement crisis, but it is not, in my opinion, the structural origin of displacement. The main cause is the lack of autonomy, the lack of control of the territory in which this economic model does not allow for agricultural subsistence activities to be developed in harmony with the land. These dynamics are breaking the social fabric and installing violence in our communities. At COPINH, we have understood that the greater the autonomy and territorial control we have, the more prepared we will be to face any climatic catastrophe. However, dependency has been intensified and autonomy has been lacerated. Consequently, we envision a surge of forced displacement.