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National Coordinator of the Month: Dr Roberto Herrera, Honduras

“Guaranteeing all citizens benefits from our extractive industries”.

This profile of the month was written by Lyydia Kilpi.

Latin America and mining have a shared history that is far from rosy. For hundreds of years the native population have seen gold, silver and other mineral riches being shipped overseas. It is no wonder anti-mining sentiments have been strong. Conflicts between mining companies and local communities are still commonplace.

Dr Roberto Herrera, National Coordinator of EITI Honduras, knows this well. He has been following mining-related development issues for over 15 years. Herrera, a lawyer by education, sees the need to make the industry work for the people. Honduras, a Central American state situated between El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, is one of the poorest countries in the region and has suffered from political instability.

Mining in Honduras has a long history that extends to colonial times. “In the Spanish era, this was Central America’s most important mining area with more than 300 gold and silver mines”, Herrera notes. Yet mining communities continue to suffer from poverty. The resource-rich country faces a new set of challenges and opportunities as extraction of hydrocarbon deposits located in the Caribbean Sea starts in coming years.

A challenge taken up

Herrera is confident that the EITI and the new mining law passed in 2013 together open up new perspectives for positive change. The quest to ensure that the extractive industries are a source of welfare, not conflict, is a theme that Herrera brings up frequently.

Herrera’s relationship with the EITI took off in 2011, when he served as an External Advisor to the President. “One of my main concerns was to find a mechanism that would guarantee that the people could experience in their everyday life the benefits the extractive industries generate”, says Herrera.

It was then when the EITI was identified as the most suitable international standard to meet the needs. Honduras brought together stakeholders from the mining companies, civil society and government in a multi-stakeholder group (MSG) and became an EITI Candidate country in May last year. “The combined efforts of all stakeholders on the MSG have enabled EITI implementation”, says Herrera.

The team behind EITI Honduras is indeed devoted to its work. The National Secretariat has only one paid staff member, all others, including Herrera, work on a voluntary basis. Herrera proudly explains how EITI Honduras is first and foremost a domestic process, not a project by international donors: “Our decision is to show with our own effort and voluntary work that we appreciate the EITI as a public good for Honduras, and that we only resort to international cooperation to complement our own efforts.”

Making transparency matter

The enthusiasm is tangible. Honduras has chosen to implement an EITI pilot project on beneficial ownership that aims to unveil who really profits from oil, gas and mining operations. The word that Honduras is now implementing the EITI is being spread around the provinces. The principles and requirements of the EITI are disseminated in communities affected by mining and the exploration of hydrocarbons.

However, it may not be smooth sailing all along. Herrera admits that transparency has adversaries: “It must be recognised that these opponents, though few, are powerful and situated in several sectors of the population.”

Despite this, Herrera reminds that social responsibility, transparency and ethics have become central business assets to many companies. ”These principles are the true foundation of investment security and trust among companies, host governments and the people”, says Herrera.

Joining forces

Herrera seems determined to redirect the unequal path resource extraction in Latin America has followed for hundreds of years, and he knows it is a job for more than one man. He sees the EITI as a valuable platform for dialogue that allows stakeholders to deepen their understanding of the sector and build consensus on key issues.

“We are gathering everyone’s efforts to achieve effective implementation of the EITI that will allow us to have greater confidence in local development and in the well-being of communities, as well as the Honduran population as a whole.”