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2007- Municipalities Declare Territories Free of Mining [San Martín]

Between 2013 and 2015, approximately 20 municipalities across Honduras declared themselves “territories free of mining” by holding public referenda (cabildos abiertos) in which communities voted on whether to allow mining operations where they lived. These municipalities included, among others, Sabá and Balfate in Colón; Danlí and Teupasenti in El Paraíso; El Negrito, El Progreso and Yorito in Yoro; Dulce Nombre de Culmí, Juticalpa and Olancho in Olancho; Sánta Barabara,  Sán Nicolás, Atima, Colinas, and San Francisco de Ojuera in Sánta Barbara; Chinaclas and San Jose de la Paz in La Paz; Belen Gualcho in Ocotepeque; and Jesus de Otoro in Intibuca. These types of public referenda date back to before 2013, with Santa Barbara first holding on 2007 and again in 2013 (see Upside Down World, 2015). In some instances, the declaration was preceded by large demonstrations. For example, in El Negrito, it took place “after a mobilisation of 10,000 people” (Middeldorp, 2014: 111).

In some communities, the process for proceeding with a referendum on mining begins with training meetings, referred to as capacitaciones. The meetings may “last several days”, during which community representatives learn, among other things “about the emergence of the extractivist model in 1998; the history of the anti-mining movement; the mining law; the impacts of mining; the complicity of the state and the partiality of INHGEOMIN [the Honduran Institute of Geology and Mines]; the Chinese expansion in Honduras; the community members’ rights as citizens, and how to legally block a mine” (Ibid). The declaration of communities as “territories free of mining” is based, in part, on the requirement in the 2013 Mining Law that communities be consulted before a mining project proceeds to the exploitation phase (See the Legal Action, entitled “1998-2013 Honduran Mining Laws”, for more detail). As described by Nick Middeldorp, an anthropologist based at Wageningen University and Research Centre, the declarations are “more symbolic than legal” because “exploration activities [which occur before the exploitation phase] cannot be legally prevented with this declaration.” The legal procedure for conducting a public referendum (cabildo abierto) is provided for in the Law on Municipalities.

While this public referenda tool gained prominence after closing of the San Martín mine in 2010, the impact of this mining operation on the Siria Valley is used during capacitaciones as an example by which“mining is actively framed as a threat to the right to a healthy environment and a threat to life itself by giving special attention to the substance of water” (Ibid). If resources allow, community members may also visit the Siria Valley to speak with residents about their experiences with mining (Ibid).

In addition to these community-level public referenda, legal and political actions are also taken in relation to the rights of indigenous and Afro-Honduran communities to consultation and free, prior and informed consent, as enshrined in the International Labour Organization Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (No. 169), among other international instruments (See the Legal Action, entitled “Proposed Consultation Law”, for more detail).

Type of Action / Tipo de Acción:
Popular Consultations and/or Referendum
Extractive Project / Proyecto extractivo:
Region / Región:
Central America
Country / País:
Natural Resource / Recurso natural:
Jurisdiction / Jurisdicción:
Honduran System
Category of Key Actors in Legal Action / Categoría de actores claves en la Acción Legal:
Grassroots Movements
Key Legal Actors Involved / Actores jurídicos clave involucrados:
Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), National Federation of Farm Workers, Various other national and local community, social, and environmental organizations
Year Action Started / Año de inicio:
References / Referencias:

Biodiversity in Lating America and the Caribbean, “Honduras: cabildo abierto rechazó presencia de minerias y declaró municipio ecológico a Santa Bárbara”, dated 18 August 2007, online:, accessed on 3 July 2018

Honduran Institute for Environmental Law (IDAMHO) and OXFAM , The San Marin mine in the Valle de Siria – Exploration, Exploration, Exploirtation and Closure (Executive Report) (Spanish) , August 2013, online:, accessed 7 October 2020

Honduprensa, “En cabildo abierto, Danlí rechaza explotación minera”, dated 23 October 2013, online:, accessed on 18 September 2020.

Nick Middeldorp, ‘In Honduras it is a Sin to Defend Life’: An Ethnography of the Discourses, Practices and Dangers of Opposition to Mining in Honduras, Wageningen University & Research, dated June 2014, online:, accessed on 7 October 2020

Upside Down World, “Territories Free of Mining on the Rise in Honduras”, dated 6 January 2015, online:, accessed on 7 October 2020