Exiled activist from Honduras lives in his home with others fighting for human rights
Editor’s note: This story first appeared on palaverthe National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ digital news site.
By J. Marcos and María Ángeles Fernández
Dalila Argueta keeps going from one side to the other. She acts as the perfect hostess, even if she has only been settled in her new home for a short time: the Basoa Defenders’ House, a community and self-managed space built a few months ago about 40 kilometers from Bilbao, in the north of Spain.
The house serves as a meeting space and has four floors, 50 beds and a large kitchen with its many pots and pans. It has bathrooms and showers, a fireplace, a library, bright windows and a large garden with trees. More than 40 ecofeminist activists from different countries in Latin America, Spain and Senegal have come together to build transnational alliances “against corporate power”. It is the mission of the organization, Peace with Dignity, which launched the house.
A defender of human rights, of the land of the community and of the Guapinol River (Honduras), Dalila, restless and petite, is one of the first inhabitants of Basoa.
“Not only do they (welcome me), but Basoa also acts as a spokesperson for my struggle,” she explains. Dalila’s fight is the resistance against the iron mine that has been polluting his country for five years, after the Honduran company Inversiones Los Pinares obtained the permit to exploit the Botaderos mountain.
Botaderos is located in the Honduran Caribbean Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Thirty-four water sources come from the mountain which has been part of a protected national park since 2012. The Honduran government’s 2013-2024 management plan established an area of more than 24,000 acres where no agricultural, pastoral or harvesting was not allowed. This included mining, building dams or installing antennas.
This was short-lived due to a decree in late 2013 that reduced the protected area despite opposition from various Honduran institutions. Following this change, Inversiones Los Pinares, owned by Honduran businessman Lenir Pérez, obtained the permit to build the mine.
Muddy water, ‘gringo’ money
From the start of construction work around the mine, Dalila Argueta threw herself into the fight that would change her life and eventually force her to leave her country. In her community, the water turned to “pure mud” and stopped working to quench thirst. “Neither the pigs nor the cows drank the muddy water. People started buying big bottles (of water),” she recalls. Nucor, America’s largest steelmaker, planned to buy the mined ore. Communities quickly opposed the project.
A journalistic investigation by the Honduran media Contracorriente, the Latin American Center for Journalistic Investigation and Univisión Investiga, revealed that Nucor was associated with Inversiones Los Pinares in a rather opaque way through a subsidiary in Panama.
“It’s not easy to know that all these layers of companies exist,” says Jennifer Ávila, director and co-founder of Contracorriente. Residents of the communities said that “the gringos have arrived”, but to verify this connection, a leak and several months of journalistic work were necessary, in which, among other things, the business relationship between Nucor and Lenir Pérez quickly came to light, a relationship that began in 2015. Nucor said it left the project in 2019 due to protests.
After the first protests, a camp was organized to prevent the access of machines to the area affected by the project. This lasted three months, until the end of October 2018, when the protest was violently expelled, as documented by organizations such as Amnesty International.
“That’s when they started chasing our colleagues,” says Dalila. “A high price is being paid there for the protest.” Eight activists were imprisoned in August 2019 as a preventive measure, and over the next two years there were declarations and demands for the release of the so-called “Eight of Guapinol” by the United Nations, the European Parliament and members of Congress.
A few months before his arrest, Dalila managed to leave Honduras. She thought about going with her children to the United States, but she quickly ruled out entering the country illegally. “It made me dizzy that something happened to me on this road, because it’s one thing for me to put up with what I have to put up with, but it’s another thing for me to have something happen to my children because of me,” she said. Explain. Groups such as the National Network of Human Rights Defenders of Honduras and the Mesoamerican Women Defenders Initiative came forward and brought her safely and legally to Spain on April 4, 2019.
Asylum for a few, a home for all
To stay in Spain, Dalila had to prove that her life was in danger in Honduras. The asylum application process is complicated for those like her who leave countries where there is no armed conflict or natural disaster. In the case of both Spain and the United States, people from Honduras occupy the third place among asylum seekers, despite the fact that the percentage of approval of applications in 2021 in Spain was 10% and in the United States by 8%.
Victims of social repression are generally not recognized as asylum candidates. Ironically, the countries that deny asylum are often the ones that caused the conflicts that forced militants out of their homelands in the first place. A good example is Nucor, based in North Carolina. The company funded Donald Trump’s campaigns and its directors served as advisers to former President Trump and current Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in the Biden administration.
“Just look at where we come from. The cities are decimated”, underlines Dalila. The latest Global Witness report shows that in 2020, Honduras recorded 17 killings of these land and environmental defenders. Three years earlier, the organization had already warned, in a document specifically mentioning Lenir Pérez, that Honduras is the most dangerous place to defend the Earth, stressing that “corporations are responsible”. Dalila is clear: “No mining company is synonymous with development for the land from which it extracts; it is a development for those who loot, but not for those who suffer the consequences.
Dalila’s story is alive and full of thoughts and reflections. She doesn’t know the business network in detail, but she knows firsthand what criticism of extractive projects entails. She also embraces the solidarity of her community. Three hundred people donated some $31,000 to undertake some of the work needed in Basoa, a project that sprang from the Artea network, which hosts migrants.
Basque activist and lawyer Olatz Talavera also lives in Basoa and is one of his supporters. “We realized we needed a place to think and reflect, and we started dreaming about this space for social transformation.” A dream come true that, in addition to Dalila, Olatz and others, has a room for when exiled environmental defender Lolita Chávez, originally from Guatemala, visits the Basque Country.
And while the activities continue inside the house, the mining works in Botaderos do not stop. Lenir Pérez has developed his activity in new sectors such as the airport; Nucor is reporting record profits in the first six months of 2022, and Delilah, who cannot return to her land, see her mountains, or bathe in her river, has reunited with her daughter and son, whom she has managed to take to Spain.
Maria Angeles Fernandez is a freelance journalist and member of the editorial staff of Pikara Magazine.
J.Marcos is a freelance writer and photographer which answers the questions of three vital areas: precariousness, philosophy and journalism.