Victims of mining conflict expect an indictment against Lenir Pérez in view of a possible concession extension

According to information provided to Contracorriente, after a denunciation and preliminary investigation against Lenir Pérez, legal representative of Inversiones Los Pinares, an indictment by the Attorney General’s Office is pending. An investigation by the Technical Criminal Investigation Agency (Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal – ATIC) revealed Pérez allegedly committed environmental crimes related to the mining concession irregularly granted by the Mayor’s Office in Tocoa, department of Colón. Environmental organizations have brought legal actions against Pérez, expecting prosecutors to act before January 28, when the current mining concession expires and the State decides to approve or deny a request to extend the concession for 30 years.

Text: Fernando Silva
Photography: Jorge Cabrera and Fernando Destephen

Translation: José Rivera

English edit: Amy Patricia Morales


The Attorney General’s Office is currently investigating former public officials of the municipality of Tocoa, the Secretariat of Natural Resources, the Honduran Institute of Geology and Mining (INHGEOMIN) and Lenir Pérez, an associate of the mining company Los Pinares, on reports of abuse of power, corruption, illegal exploitation and damage to the ecosystem.


According to testimonials from two sources tied to the case, an indictment against Pérez has been pending since December 2023 despite multiple denunciations of his projects, including a mining concession granted to Inversiones Los Pinares, a highly-polluting energy plant in the Carlos Escaleras National Park and an overvaluation of the construction of Palmerola International Airport.


Community representatives of Guapinol and sector San Pedro and several environmental organizations like Comité Municipal de Defensa de los Bienes Comunes y Públicos demand prosecutor José Mario Salgado to address the numerous denunciations, which could have no effect if INHGEOMIN approves Inversiones Los Pinares’ request to extend the mining concession, valid until January 28, for 30 years.


Unfulfilled promises to investigate


Representatives of communities and organizations demand a response to denunciations filed at the Special Prosecutor’s Unit Against Corruption (Unidad Fiscal Especializada contra Redes de Corrupción – UFERCO) on April 19, 2023. During this filing, they called for an investigation into public officials accused of abuse of power and corruption related to the granting of environmental licenses to projects linked to Los Pinares, an ambitious mining development.


The complaint underscores the shady circumstances surrounding the approval of Decree 252-2013, which issues environmental permits and a mining concession to corporations, subsequently reducing the Carlos Escaleras National Park, a designated protected zone,. This has resulted in violence against environmental and land activists who stand in opposition to the project. 


In 2020, a collaborative investigation by Contracorriente, Univision and Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística (CLIP) revealed that Pérez admitted having negotiations with government officials to reduce Carlos Escaleras National Park. As a result, the park was reduced by 217 hectares.


However, this process was initially questioned by the Forest Conservation Institute (Instituto de Conservación Forestal – ICF), an entity that manages protected areas. In 2014, ICF determined that the project to extract iron oxide is “not feasible” since it would have a severe impact on flora and fauna. Despite ICF’s statements, the Secretariat of Natural Resources issued an environmental license to the project and granted concessions ASP and ASP2, 100 hectares each, to Inversiones Los Pinares a few months later, allowing the extraction of iron oxide.


The plot to modify the protected area was carried out by several congressional members—including Ricardo Antonio Díaz Aceituno, former congressional alternate and Rigoberto Chang Castillo, former congressional member and secretary of Congress—who were later investigated by UFERCO for corruption.


The denunciation brought to prosecutors also entails prosecution against public officials for abuse of power and damages to the Carlos Escaleras National Park ecosystem.

Members of Comité Municipal por los Bienes Comunes y Públicos (CMDBCP) from Tocoa issuing a press release in front of the Attorney General’s Office. Photo CC/Jorge Cabrera

Regarding these denunciations, ATIC announced in a press release on June 28, 2023, that they are investigating the Mayor’s Office in Tocoa and ICF’s offices to determine if crimes related to illegal exploitation of natural resources, environmental damage, contamination of water resources, and abuse of power were committed to the detriment of neighborhood boards and environmental organizations. 


According to information provided by the Attorney General’s Office, in addition to the alleged crimes, there are two investigations against Inversiones Los Pinares S.A. de C.V., of which Lenir Pérez and his wife Ana Facussé are associates. ATIC stated in the press release, “The company has allegedly affected 14 communities settled around the project.”


On October 26, 2023, Inversiones Los Pinares requested a 30-year extension of the mining concession to INHGEOMIN. It was initially granted in 2014 and expires on January 28, 2024. Additionally, the concessionaire requested an amendment to the contract category from “non-metallic” to “metallic” due to a supposed change to the classification of materials extracted from the mountain such as iron oxide and antimony.


In late July 2023, Lucky Medina, Secretary of Natural Resources and Environment, announced an agreement between the government and Inversiones Los Pinares to temporarily suspend mining activities for two years. According to Medina, the suspension is due to an absence of a valid environmental license for the area allocated to the ASP2 concession and the company’s inability to pay employees’ wages, around 13 million lempiras per month.


Although media outlets in the municipality of Tocoa drew people’s attention to the massive layoff of mine workers, no one is certain that mining activities were suspended. The request to extend the concession is controversial considering the series of conflicts attributed to the company.


INHGEOMIN rejected a request by Contracorriente to access the file of the mining concession granted to Inversiones Los Pinares and has not responded to a request to obtain a copy.


Contracorriente also requested an interview to the communications office at Grupo Emco, Pérez’ conglomerate, which incorporates Inversiones Los Pinares, but there was no response.


In late 2022, CMDBCP issued a technical report that reveals the impact of open-cast mining on communities affected by Los Pinares’ ambitious project, including two mining concessions, a pelletizing and processing plant owned by Inversiones Ecotek, a 50 MW power plant and three contracts in Guapinol River.


After a follow-up visit to confirm that environmental measures in the project were taken and the evaluation of an expert geologist, the report found a significant reduction of forest cover in concession areas and the adjacent core zone.

The core and buffer zones in the Carlos Escaleras National Park before and after the mining concession was granted. The image was taken from CMDBCP’s technical report.

In addition, the report found that the company is committing an environmental crime as they did not determine the location of a dump, a place for waste from mining activities, in the environmental impact study. “If there’s no safe place for the company to pour waste, they simply cannot operate,” the report says.


“Inversiones Los Pinares is responsible for deforestation; they have removed the entire plant cover and topsoil within the ASP2 concession area to set up a dump without an environmental license. Furthermore, such carelessness has had an impact on newly established limits of the core zone, and sediments and contaminated waters are dumped into La Cascada ravine, a permanent water source and tributary of the San Pedro river located in its entirety within the core zone.”


Regarding the environmental damage caused by Inversiones Los Pinares’ project, Raúl Rámirez, general secretary at Plataforma Agraria told Contracorriente, “The concession should not be extended; this project destroys human life because it has devastating consequences for communities who obtain water from the area where the mine is located. They are causing contamination and deforestation. The project should definitely not be allowed there,” he said.


Lenir Pérez under investigation by the FBI but unpunished by Honduran authorities


Although it was made known in April 2023 that the FBI is investigating Pérez and his connections to Nucor, a multinational corporation and largest steel producer in the U.S., he and his wife, Ana Facussé, are the sole associates of Inversiones Los Pinares.


Since then, changes made by Los Pinares as shown in the trade registers suggest two key operations were needed to prolong the mining project in Tocoa.


In May 2023, Los Pinares acted as guarantor for a $30 million loan issued by Banco de Desarrollo Rural S.A. (Banrural) to Alutech S.A. de C.V., another company owned by Pérez. After Alutech took out the loan, Los Pinares’ management board met on May 16, 2023, and authorized a right-of-way, a right of passage granted to third parties, to Tocoa Energy, another company from the conglomerate.


After those developments, on October 17, 2023, councilmen from the municipality of Tocoa were invited to take a look at the plant where petcoke, a highly contaminating oil derivate, will likely be used to initially generate 25 megawatts, a solution to the serious blackout crisis in the region. Less than a month later, Adán Fúnez, Mayor of Tocoa, and a majority of councilmen voted in favor of organizing an open council to decide if the project will be carried out.


However, an overwhelming citizen opposition to the project compelled Fúnez to cancel the open council scheduled for December 9, 2023, but the company and municipal authorities have persisted and called for a new open council on January 31, 2024.

Inhabitants of the department of Colón held banners in protest against a possible extension of the mining concession close to their communities. Photo CC/ Fernando Destephen

According to Limbor Velásquez, forestry engineer and member of Fundación San Alonso Rodríguez (FSAR), petcoke is a highly toxic, cheap residue of hydrocarbons that emits a large amount of ashes containing sulfur, and the company has not found a location where this waste can be safely dumped. He added there is no control of emissions because there are no regulations in Honduras for the use of such compound.


Despite opposition to the project, the company said that more than 80 percent of the power plant is completed.


Companies incorporated by Grupo Emco are still operating despite conflicts resulting from actions by government officials. For instance, in response to efforts by Servicio Aeroportuario Nacional to take control of the newly built Palmerola International Airport, the concessionaire—who is represented internationally by Clifford Chance, one of the largest law firms in the world—filed a claim against the Honduran State at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).


Promises made by government officials and President Castro to review and modify conditions of agreements between Pérez’ companies and the State have faded over time. For instance, Congress formed a commission to review the concession agreement for Palmerola Airport and fixed a date to present results, June 2023. However, by January 2024 no report has been released.


In January 2023, Contracorriente reported that since June 2020, Pérez frequently sought the professional services of Lourdes Pamela Blanco Luque—lawyer, notary and wife of Tomás Vaquero Morris, Secretary of Governance, Justice and Decentralization, and a close ally of the Castro administration who managed public funds during the political campaign.


Blanco Luque has provided legal assistance to 14 of the 35 companies, including Palmerola International Airport, registered to Pérez’ name. Her office is located at the Secretariat of Governance.


Contracorriente found out that Palmerola International Airport, the concessionaire that manages the main airport in Honduras, appointed Liana María Bueso Majano, lawyer and former congressional candidate from the National Party, as legal representative on December 6, 2022. However, the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) filed a denunciation against her at the Attorney General’s Office for setting up 14 shady businesses to which the State granted energy production contracts in 2014.


Majano was also an employee of the Secretariat of Public Works, Transportation and Housing (SOPTRAVI) between 2010 and 2012, legal coordinator at the Commission for the Promotion of Public-Private Partnership (COALIANZA), and legal representative of the Joya Grande Zoo, property owned by the criminal group Los Cachiros. Her name was brought up in the trial against Devis Leonel Maradiaga, member of that cartel, in the U.S.

Residents utterly reject mining activities close to their communities. Photo CC/Fernando Destephen.

Lenir Pérez is known for having close ties to authorities in the region who have allowed him to venture into ambitious businesses, including the concession to built Palmerola International Airport in which former President Hernández played a key role; and donations to Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s campaign before receiving a multimillion-dollar contract to build a cargo terminal in that country’s main airport.


According to Juan López, councilman who visited the power generation plant, the company is trying to dissociate itself from accusations of human rights violations, corruption and the FBI investigation. However, if the mining concession in Guapinol is extended, this ambitious project could continue despite accusations of environmental damage and irregularities concerning its approval.

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Fernando Silva is an investigative journalist. His work focuses on covering corruption, power structures, extractivism, forced displacement and migration. He is also an audiovisual producer and has worked for half a decade in this field with organizations that defend human rights and development institutions in the country. In 2019 he graduated from the Investigative Journalism Course at Columbia University and that same year was part of Transnacionales de la Fe, which in 2020 won the Ortega y Gasset prize for best investigative journalism awarded by the Spanish newspaper El País. She is a fellow of the International Women Media Foundation (IWMF).

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