Archive for the ‘Blue Energy’ Category

Three members of same Honduran environmental group have been murdered over the past 4 months

Patrick J. McDonnell and Cecilia Sanchez

Berta Cáceres13The murder of Berta Cáceres, an internationally acclaimed environmental activist in Honduras, briefly focused global attention on embattled grassroots efforts to protect indigenous lands from government-backed hydro-electric projects in the Central American nation.

Cáceres, a recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, was gunned down at her rural home on March 3 in what appeared to be a targeted assassination. The killing sparked worldwide condemnation and allegations of the involvement of government officials and private entrepreneurs.

While initially suggesting that the murder was a crime of passion, Honduran authorities have since arrested five suspects, including an Army officer and at least one employee of a company running a dam project that she opposed.

In the meantime, two other activists affiliated with the same group as Cáceres — the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras — have also been murdered.

Yanet Urquia

Yanet Urquia

The string of slayings has raised alarms about a possible systemic effort to target the group, which has been at the forefront of regional opposition to the government-backed privatization and exploitation of natural resources.

Government officials have denied any involvement in the slayings and defended hydro-electric projects as necessary for generating electricity across the country.

The latest victim was Lesbia Janeth Urquia, a 49-year old mother of three who was apparently hacked to death with a machete last week.

Denying a political motive, prosecutors said this week that she was killed in a family dispute over an inheritance and announced the arrest of Urquia’s brother-in-law, the alleged plotter, and two men he allegedly hired to carry out the murder.

But Honduran activists immediately rejected that account as a cover-up and suggested that Urquia was killed for publicly opposing a controversial hydro-electric project on the Chinacla River.

“We don’t believe in this [official] version,” Tomas Gomez, head of the indigenous environmental group, said Thursday in a telephone interview. “In this country they invent cases and say that the murders have nothing to do with political issues. The government always tries to dis-connect so as to not admit that these amount to political killings.”

He said the group would continue to push for thorough investigations of all three murders of its members and called for support from international organizations.

Critics of various hydro-electric projects said they would cut off water and otherwise damage the lands of the Lenca people, Mayan descendants who constitute Honduras’ largest indigenous group.

The activists allege widespread collusion in Honduras between government officials and large companies seeking to profit from hydro-electric and other projects affecting native lands.

Olivia Marcela Zuniga, the daughter of Cáceres and an environmental activist herself,  called for an international investigation into the three killings.

“We don’t believe the government,” Zuniga said Thursday in a telephone interview from Honduras. “Here they murder social activists, peasants, indigenous people, women. Members of the government are involved. That’s why we call them political assassinations that almost always remain unresolved, with impunity.”

In the case of her mother’s homicide, Zuniga noted, authorities initially suggested that her killing  was the result of a “crime of passion.”

The suspects arrested in that case “were poor people” and not the masterminds who planned and financed the killing, she said. Before her slaying, Cáceres had received dozens of death threats because of her high-profile opposition to the Agua Zarca dam project on the Gualcarque River.

Weeks after that murder, Nelson Garcia, another Honduran activist affiliated with the indigenous environmental council, was killed in what police have said was an apparent robbery attempt. Activists have rejected the official version and called for more investigation.

Urquia’s body was found last week near a garbage dump in the highland town of Marcala, west of Tegucigalpa, the capital. She had last been seen going out on her bicycle, her family said. Her head showed signs of trauma from machete blows, according to accounts in the Honduran media.

Honduras has one of the world’s highest rates of murder. Many killings remain unresolved amid widespread gang violence, a proliferation of arms  and allegations of official links to criminal bands.

Global Witness, the  London-based environmental advocacy group, labels Honduras the most dangerous nation for environmental activists. More than 100 activists have been killed in Honduras since 2010, according to the group.

Sanchez is a special correspondent.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

Canada’s Controversial Engagement in Honduras

By: Sabrina Escalera-Flexhaug, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Photo Credit: The Dominion

Increasing Involvement

Since Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras in 1998, Canada has cast an increasingly long shadow over the small Central American country’s economy and policy; a presence that has grown stronger since Honduras’ controversial 2009 coup. The self-proclaimed peacekeepers have since built a stronghold over Honduras via investment in industries and support for the illegitimate government created in the wake of the coup. Canada’s relationship with Honduras is emblematic of its shifting position within the international community, as an imperial presence, establishing and expanding industries in the less developed country at the expense of local citizens and the environment.

Canadian economic and political ties with Honduras intensified following Hurricane Mitch. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch ravaged much of Central America and resulted in the deaths of over 11,000 people.[1] It also left Honduras with $3 billion USD in damage from the catastrophe, causing utter economic devastation in one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

Following the hurricane, Ottawa responded with a “long-term development plan,” offering the Honduran government $100 million USD over four years for reconstruction projects. Part of this proposal included the introduction of forty Canadian companies into Honduras for investment purposes, which provided them with the opportunity to claim Honduran land and mineral assets. Canadian and U.S. developers helped rewrite the Honduran General Mining Law, and created the National Association of Metal Mining of Honduras (ANAMINH) to advance their interests in the nation. Under the new law, foreign mining companies have the right to subsurface land rights and tax breaks, marking a sharp change from the mining laws of the colonial era.[2]

Not surprisingly, mining—bolstered by foreign capital—has grown to be the dominant industry in Honduras. Foreign mining companies have done well under the new laws, with the Honduran government granting approximately 30 percent of Honduran territory in mining concessions.2 These companies, now owning a substantial portion of Honduran land, have a vested interest in the country’s politics. This is particularly true for Canadian mining corporations, which dominate the Honduran mining sector. According to the president of the ANAMINH, 90 percent of foreign mining investments in Honduras are Canadian.[3]

The Coup

Canadian mining corporations have a deep-rooted interest in keeping Honduran regulatory mining laws weak. These interests were threatened, however, when left-of-center candidate Manuel Zelaya was elected in 2006. Shortly after taking office, Zelaya announced his plans to reform the mining sector by restricting foreign mining companies in Honduras, distinguishing himself as a leader of an anti-foreign mining viewpoint. In May 2009, only a month before the armed forces ousted Zelaya, the Honduran Congress drafted a new mining bill. The bill was set to increase taxes on foreign mining companies, prohibit open-pit mining, and outlaw the use of toxic substances in mining activities. The bill would have required approval from local communities before mining operations went forward. However, Zelaya was forcefully removed from power on June 28, ending all discussion of mining reform.[4]

A Pointed Silence

After the coup, nearly every country denounced the removal of the democratically elected president. However, Ottawa remained silent and the Canadian media hardly reported on the political crisis.[5] According to Professor Tyler Shipley at York University in Toronto, Canadian reporters waited over twenty-four hours to report on the issue, even as international media immediately flooded into Honduras to report on the coup. When the Organization of American States (OAS) met to discuss the issue in July of 2009, Canada stood out again for its asymmetrical relationship with Honduras. Although most countries favored the return of Zelaya and the implementation of sanctions against the coup government, Canada argued that the international community had no grounds to intervene. Peter Kent, a minister of state for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, wanted to restore democratic order with Honduras’ interim government and strongly opposed Zelaya’s return. In contrast, the U.S. ambassador claimed that the U.S. government would most likely move to suspend economic development and military assistance to Honduras.[6] However, behind the scenes, U.S. support for the coup government was key in keeping the new regime in power. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went as far as to criticize Zelaya for wanting to return to his own country, calling it “reckless.”[7] Nevertheless, Canada declined to condemn the coup and publicly supported the status quo, while most of the international community rejected the coup government.

Illegitimate Democracy

In November 2009, the Honduran government held its scheduled elections. However, only the United States, Colombia, Costa Rica and Canada argued that the elections were fully democratic.[8] Most nations dismissed the elections as an obvious attempt to retroactively provide legitimacy to the coup government. In the eyes of many onlookers, the elections left much to be desired in terms of legitimate electoral participation.

One of the major flaws of the election was the pressure placed on the political opposition. The coup government accomplished this through mass arrests, illegal detentions, and violence. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (at the OAS) thoroughly documented these violations.[9]

In response to this widespread repression, more than 50 candidates for public office, including one would-be presidential candidate, removed their names from the ballot in protest against the interim government. Meanwhile, the coup government compiled the names of anti-coup activists and gave them to the military, which then threatened these leaders, making it difficult for protesters to unite against the fraudulent election.[10] Due to the lack of progressive candidates and political coercion, only 35 percent of the population voted, and 70 percent of voters were from Honduras’ wealthy neighborhoods.[11] This was not an election in which the poor were invited. In short, the election that brought President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo to power was far from democratic; nevertheless, countries such as Canada and the United States endorsed it.

Lie and Reconciliation Commission

After the coup and the fraudulent election, a dispirited Honduran society scrambled to return to normalcy. One of the primary ways Canada sought to help Honduras return to business as usual under the new government was by offering to help create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The role of this commission was to investigate events surrounding the coup.

Shortly after President Lobo created the commission, Canada supplied funding and nominated Michael Kergin to be a commission member. Kergin had been a Canadian diplomat and employee of Bennett Jones, a Canadian corporate law firm that specializes in investment law and mining.[12] In spite of Canadian support, the commission was not recognized by any social or human rights organization that had spoken out against the military coup. Furthermore, the commission failed to consult the family members of victims that were tortured, murdered, and repressed by the post-coup government. [13] Therefore, the commission claimed to validate the post coup government without consulting the necessary parties.

Readmission into the OAS

Immediately following President Lobo’s inauguration on January 27, 2010, Peter Kent announced his support of the Lobo administration’s initiative to reintegrate the country into the international community, particularly into the OAS. Kent met with OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza on February 16 of that year to push the Canadian government’s goal of reinstating Honduras into the OAS. [14] After the OAS accepted Lobo’s administration, Canada further solidified its role as the government’s protector. In 2011, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper became the first foreign leader since Lobo’s inauguration to visit Honduras and meet with the President.[15]

Industrial Abuses

Critics have long held that Canadian involvement and investment in Honduras is plagued with corruption, and that the situation has only worsened since the coup. In particular, many criticize the manufacturing sector, which is Honduras’ second largest industry, for mistreating its workers. One of the industry’s worst offenders is Gildan Active Wear Inc., a Montreal-based textile manufacturer that laid off hundreds of Canadian workers in order to facilitate its move to Honduras in 2007. Gildan Active Wear Inc. is one of three dominant, low-wage sweatshop companies operating in Honduras. The company’s stated goal for the relocation was to improve its competitiveness and efficiency.[16]However, there is a darker side to its operations in Honduras. Many women working in Canadian-owned sweatshops have reported serious injuries caused by repetitive work in the factories. These injuries include musculo-skeletal problems and injuries sustained from major accidents, and they often leave women unable to work. Still, female workers must continue to feed and clothe their families while paying costly medical bills. According to Karen Spring with Rights Action, Gildan is aware of these atrocities; it has refused to provide compensation.[17] The company has also been accused of firing workers for attempting to unionize.[18][19]

Exploitive Tourism

Similarly, many criticize Canadian investment in Honduras’ tourism industry for its impact on the local population. One of the industry’s leading promoters is Randy Jorgensen, who is also the president of the Canadian pornography chain Adults Only Video and the owner of the real estate development company Life Vision Properties, based in Trujillo, Honduras. In 2007, Jorgensen and some local intermediaries purchased property illegally in the Bay of Trujillo, resulting in the expulsion of an Afro-Indigenous community known as the Garífunas from the region. Jorgensen has also acquired Garífuna land in other Honduran towns such as Santa Fe, San Antonio, and Guadalupe. Prior to the 2009 coup, local inhabitants had lodged formal complaints about these fraudulent purchases, but government authorities failed to intervene. Jorgensen used the chaos and the political instability during the coup to acquire environmental permits to construct villas on the hillsides overlooking the Caribbean in the protected area of Capiro and Calentura National Park. In spite of these offenses, Ramon Lobo Sosa, President Lobo’s brother, strongly supported Jorgensen. In 2011, Lobo himself praised the businessman in a cabinet session. To make matters worse, Jorgensen receives financial support from the Canadian Shield Fund, which itself receives funding from controversial mining companies Barrick Gold and the Canadian Oil and Gas Company. [20] These economic earnings come at the expense of factory workers and local inhabitants. Canadian investment in Honduras operates without restraint, and the industry’s ability to manipulate the Honduran economy and its local population only increases with time.

Free Trade Agreement

Once the chaos surrounding the coup quieted down, Canada made quick use of its newfound political capital and began discussing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Honduran government. The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement was signed into law on November 5, 2013, along with parallel labor and environmental cooperation agreements.[21] By June 2014, the Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity Act—designed to implement the Free Trade Agreement—received royal acceptance. [22] According to the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, “The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement includes provisions on market access for goods, services (including financial services), investment and government procurement. Once the agreement is fully implemented, over 98 percent of tariff lines will be duty-free.”[23]

The free trade agreement is meant to create transparency and promote a rules-based commercial and investment environment. However, the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement is a flawed agreement, benefiting only foreign corporations and those that support them, much like other FTAs in Latin America. For example, Gildan Activewear Inc. recently closed its last North American factory in Alabama as a result of the agreement and announced that it would be investing 100 million dollars into a new sock factory in Honduras.[24]

The corporation will increase investment and hire additional workers in Honduras, despite its failures to properly provide for its current employees. The agreement will lower taxes for Canadian corporations and encourage further investment, thereby increasing their power and influence in Honduras. Canadian companies are bound to benefit from the agreement while the Honduran population continues to suffer environmental and human rights abuses.

Expansion of the Oil Industry

Canadian investment and influence has expanded since the FTA was signed, as shown by Canada’s growing interest in oil development in the country. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has been financing technical assistance to the hydrocarbon sector in Honduras as part of a larger project managed by the Latin American Energy Organization. The Canadian International Development Agency originally approved the project to set out a five-year plan that would start by reviewing the country’s oil and gas potential. Initial tests revealed that the land with the most hydrocarbon potential was offshore, in the inland region along the Caribbean coast, and in the Moskitia, a remote region in the northeast with a large indigenous population.[25]

Some indigenous organizations have voiced their opposition to expanding oil and gas activity in Honduras. A closer examination of the history of extractive industries in the region causes the indigenous communities to suspect that these industries will only benefit transnational corporations at the expense of local communities.[26] However, Canadian corporations now hold considerable political and economic clout in Honduras and will most likely profit off of these social losses.

The New Imperialism

Canada’s increasing dominance over Honduras is indicative of its shifting imperial role in Latin America and the international arena. Over time, Canada has increased its influence through subtle diplomatic and economic manipulations in Honduras. These political maneuvers include Canada’s response to the 2009 coup, its recently enacted free trade agreement, its manufacturers’ abuses, and its dangerous policies with regard to oil. Unlike the outright militant actions pursued by other superpowers in Latin America over the past century, Canada has increased its hold on Honduras without impactful restrictions on its industries in Honduras. Thus, Canadian relations with Honduras demonstrate a new, subtle, and insidious imperialism.

Special Thanks to Professor Tyler Shipley, York University Toronto, Ontario 

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to: LatinNews.com and Rights Action. 

References

[1] “Mitch: The Deadliest Atlantic Hurricane Since 1780,” National Climatic Data Center, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/reports/mitch/mitch.html

[2] Ashley Holly, “Shame on Canada, Coup Supporter,” The Tyee, July 9, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://thetyee.ca/Views/2009/07/09/ShameOnCanada/

[3] Todd Gordon, “Military Coups are Good for Canadian Business: The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement,” Global Research, March 3, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement/23492

[4] Jennifer Moore, “Canada’s Subsidies to the Mining Industry Don’t Stop at Aid: Political Support Betrays Government Claims of Corporate Social Responsibility,” MiningWatch Canada, June 2012, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.miningwatch.ca/sites/www.miningwatch.ca/files/Canada_and_Honduras_mining_law-June%202012.pdf

[5] Dawn Paley, “Canada, Honduras and the Coup d’Etat,” The Dominion, January 8, 2010, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/3080

[6] Ginger Thompson and Marc Lacey, “O.A.S. Votes to Suspend Honduras Over Coup,” The New York Times, July 4, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/world/americas/05honduras.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-zuesse/hillary-clintons-two-fore_1_b_3714765.html

[8] “Nations Divided on Recognizing Honduran President-Elect,” CNN World, November 30, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/11/30/honduras.elections/index.html?iref=24hours

[9] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/11/25/the_sham_elections_in_honduras

[10] ibid

[11] Rory Carroll, “Honduras Elects Porfirio Lobo as New President,” The Guardian, November 30, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/30/honduras-lobo-president

[12] Todd Gordon, “Military Coups are Good for Canadian Business: The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement,” Global Research, March 3, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement/23492

[13] http://hondurashumanrights.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/sweatshops-mining-tourism-free-trade-negotiations-canadas-involvement-in-honduras-support-for-the-post-military-coup-regime/)

[14] .( http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/03/19/canada-s-long-embrace-of-the-honduran-dictatorship/

[15] Todd Gordon, “Canada Backs Profit, Not Human Rights, in Honduras,” The Star, August 2, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/2011/08/16/canada_backs_profits_not_human_rights_in_honduras.html

[16] “Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement Will Deepen Conflict,” The Council of Canadians, February 13, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.canadians.org/blog/canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement-will-deepen-conflict

[17] http://hondurashumanrights.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/sweatshops-mining-tourism-free-trade-negotiations-canadas-involvement-in-honduras-support-for-the-post-military-coup-regime/)

[18] “Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement Will Deepen Conflict,” The Council of Canadians, February 13, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.canadians.org/blog/canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement-will-deepen-conflict

[19] Adrienne Pine, “Sweatshops, Mining, Tourism & “Free” Trade Negotiations,” Quotha, January 13, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.quotha.net/node/1468

[20] http://www.wilderutopia.com/international/earth/honduras-mega-tourism-and-garifuna-communities-collide/

[21] “Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement,” Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, June 26, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/honduras/index.aspx?lang=eng

[22] “Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity Act Receives Royal Assent,” Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, June 19, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.international.gc.ca/media/comm/news-communiques/2014/06/19a.aspx?lang=eng

[23] Ibid.

[24] http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement/23492

 

[25] Sandra Cuffe, “Canadian Aid, Honduran Oil,” Upside Down World, March 24, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://upsidedownworld.org/main/news-briefs-archives-68/4759-canadian-aid-honduran-oil

[26] (http://www.breakingthesilenceblog.com/general/the-media-coop-canadian-aid-honduran-oil-ottawa-funds-set-to-encourage-oil-investment/)

Open Season in Honduras on Indigenous Women Leaders

Lesbia Yaneth Urquía Urquía – member of COPINH – murdered July 5, 2016

By Phil Little  July 7, 2016

On March 3, 2016 the world was aghast with the news of the assassination of the celebrated Berta Cáceres, co-founder of COPINH (The Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras). Berta Cáceres had received over many years numerous death threats because of her work for the rights of the indigenous Lenca people, from whom she is descended. Berta followed the example of her mother, known as MamaBerta, and a long line of militant and active Lenca women who defied patriarchal powers and colonialism to defend their families, their land and their people. Berta Cáceres was listed on an assassination list revealed to an international observer, a visiting Spanish judge, during the fraudulent election process of 2013 which established, as designed by the U.S. embassy, the National Party as the government and Juan Orlando Hernandéz, a military general trained at the infamous School of the Americas at Ft. Benning near Columbus, Georgia, as President.

The Lenca people are the largest indigenous group in Honduras, whose origins are pre-colonial. They co-existed with the Mayan and other indigenous groups. The Lenca people have maintained many of their ancestral traditions and spirituality despite the powerful forces of assimilation of church and state. In some areas the Lenca people still preserved communal lands for cultivation of their traditional crops. However the recognition of indigenous rights has been resisted by the Honduran state and the families of the oligarchy.

In June 2016 it was revealed that Berta Cáceres was number 2 on an assassination list carried by a U.S. trained murder squad known as the Inter-institutional Security Force (Fusina). One of the 5 persons arrested and jailed in Honduras for the assassination of Berta Cáceres is Major Mariano Díaz Chávez, a graduate of the U.S. trained Tesón squad, and at the time of Cáceres murder was still an active member of the military.  There is also a link to a specially trained taskforce known as the “Xatruch” which is partially funded by the more than $200 million provided by the U.S. as military aid. While the members of the assassination squad have been supposedly identified, the government blocks further investigations that would lead to the main conspirators who paid US$50,000 to kill Cáceres.

Less than two weeks later, on March 15 an associate of Berta Cáceres and an active member of COPINH was also assassinated. Nelson García, 38 years old, was returning to his home after attending the scene of a violent eviction process affecting the community of Río Chiquito, in the same mountainous region where the Honduran dictatorship has granted concessions to foreign and national investors to build dams on every river of the area. In Río Chiquito the homes of the villagers were destroyed in order to force the people off of their ancestral lands. Since 2010 more than 120 environmental investigators and defenders were assassinated in Honduras, making it the most dangerous country in the world for those who defend the land and the environment.

It is in this context that the most recent assassination occurred on July 5, 2016, just four months after the murder of Berta Cáceres which focused the international spotlight on Honduras. In the evening of July 5, 2016 Lesbia Yaneth Urquía Urquía left her home with her bicycle as she regularly did but failed to return. A search by friends and family ended near a garbage dump where the lifeless body of Yaneth was found with obvious head wounds from what police have described as a machete blow.  Yaneth Urquía was a small business owner in the small town of Macala, and was a known activist of the same peasant and indigenous group COPINH, co-founded by Berta Cáceres.

Berta Cáceres received the prestigious Goldman Award for environmental activists because of her stalwart defense of the Gualcarque River, considered by the Lenca people as a sacred waterway. A foreign consortium, involving well connected Honduran political and oligarch elites, were involved through the DESA corporation in the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, a hydro-electric project designed to support mining projects in the country. The international consortium (Dutch, German, American and even the Canadian “Blue Energy” company) employed the military unit of TIGRES, an efficient murder squad of the Honduran military, disguised as “security guards”. The municipal government which supported the Agua Zarca project is composed of members of the National Party, the ruling national government of Honduras.

Lesbia Yaneth Urquía Urquía was a woman activist in a country with an extremely high rate of femicide which was described by the W.H.O. as reaching “epidemic” proportions.  At a rate of 12 per 100,000 population the number of murders of women is among the highest in the world. It is said that “men are killed for what they are doing, but women are killed for being women”.  In Honduras impunity is the norm and 94% of homicides remain without even an investigation. In the past decade an average 440 women are killed each year; that is a woman is killed every 18 hours in Honduras. Just being a woman activist put Yaneth Urquía in danger.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a powerful denunciation of the State of Human Rights in Honduras with a report dated December 31, 2015 (Doc 42/15).  (The official homicide rate is said to be 79/100,000 but it is strongly suspected that the official tally low balls a much higher rate that could be closer to 112/100,000 as in 2014). The Commission Report stated:

Human rights defenders in Honduras are targets of attacks by those who have been identified as responsible for rights violations, and by sectors and groups with interests opposed to their causes. The risk of losing their lives or suffering harm to their integrity has caused a great many human rights defenders in Honduras to have precautionary measures granted by the Commission that require implementation on the part of the Honduran government. (Art.44)

 

The “precautionary measures” are important to understand. Human Rights workers, journalists, environmentalist, lawyers, and anyone in a position to question or expose government complicity or fault and who have received credible threats are identified as persons at risk. Public demonstrations of opposition to the oligarchy or the government too often result in arbitrary detentions, beatings, kidnapping, and frequently death threats. Berta Cáceres had been identified by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as a person needing these “precautionary measures” which would oblige the state to provide protection. It did not do Berta any good as it is obvious that the Honduran military were involved in her assassination and the intellectual authors of the crime reach to the highest levels of the government.

Lesbia Yaneth Urquía Urquía as well had been granted these “precautionary measures” but again it did not protect her. COPINH has denounced the murder of Yaneth Urquía as another “political femicide”. Yaneth Urquía was an active member of COPINH since the military coup of 2009 which eventually led to the dominance of the National Party and the dictatorship under Juan Orlando Hernandez.  Yaneth Urquía was active in opposition to the construction of another hydroelectric dam on the Chinacla River, which flows through traditional Lenca territory and is essential to the livelihood of peasant agrarian communities in the municipality of San José, La Paz.

This hydroelectric project on the Chinacla River known as “Aurora I” however is directly linked to the office of the President of the Republic through Gladys Aurora López who was elected as a Deputy to the National Congress in the fraudulent elections of 2013 and is the Vice-President of the National Congress. She is also President of the Central Committee of the “National Party” (CCPN). Gladys Aurora López and her husband Arnold Castro had been previously identified as having threatened community members and leaders who opposed the hydroelectric project on the Chinacla River.  The owner of the company behind the “Aurora I” hydroelectric dam is none other than Gladys Aurora López.

COPINH stated: “The death of Lesbia Yaneth is a political feminicide, and an attempt to silence the voice of those brave women who are courageously defending their rights and opposing the patriarchal, racist and capitalist system of their society”.

The assassination of Yaneth Urquía suspiciously comes in the context of what is supposed to be a period of “consultations” conducted by the government dealing with the approval of a proposed regulation of the rights of indigenous community to “Prior Consultation that is free and informed”.  This would be in accord with international standards and the rights of indigenous communities to their historical traditions and settlements. This assassination could be interpreted as a statement by the government that it does not want the consultation process to be negative to the interests of economic development, such as that of “Aurora I”.

The parallels to the assassination of Berta Cáceres are far too obvious not to consider. Many of those who have opposed the industrial developments on the rivers of the departments of Sta. Barbara and Sta. Rosa de Copan have opted to flee the area for fear of repression and harm to themselves or their families. Those who stand forward in leadership, such as Berta Cáceres, Nelson García, and Yaneth Urquía, brave the intimidations, false arrests, beatings, trumped up legal complaints, and death threats because they come from a different place where they feel connected to their indigenous ancestors and are nourished by a spirituality that connects them to the “land, the water and the corn”.  They did fear death, but more they feared betraying the “Madre Tierra” (Mother Earth) who gave them courage and life.

A killing in Honduras shows that it may be the world’s deadliest country for environmentalists

 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/03/03/prize-winning-environmentalist-berta-caceres-killed-in-honduras/
By Nick Miroff March 3

Honduran environmentalist Berta Caceres, second from right, attends a news conference with human rights activists in La Esperanza. (Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras via Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Prominent indigenous activist Berta Caceres was killed in rural Honduras early Thursday, marking a new low point for a country already ranked as the world’s most dangerous for environmental activism.

Caceres, a winner of the prestigious 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was killed in her home about 1 a.m. by unknown assailants who forced their way inside, then fled, Honduran security officials said. Fellow rights activists said she was shot by two attackers.

The watchdog group Global Witness ranked Honduras, which has one of the world’s highest homicide rates, as the most deadly for environmental activism last year. Caceres had held a news conference last week to denounce the killing of four fellow activists who, like her, opposed the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project.

In awarding her the $175,000 Goldman prize — the award is given to activists from six regions — the organization cited her efforts to rally the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and wage “a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.”

China’s state-owned firm Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer, had partnered with the Honduran company to carry out the project, but fierce protests led by Caceres blocked it.

“Let us come together and remain hopeful as we defend and care for the blood of this Earth and its spirits,” she said last year during her Goldman Prize acceptance speech. She continued her activism as an indigenous leader and was a fierce critic of the right-wing government of President Juan Orlando Hernández.

Caceres received frequent death threats and was assigned police protection, Honduran officials said. Security Minister Julian Pacheco said Caceres had recently moved to a different residence and had not notified local authorities.

A security guard assigned to her home has been taken into custody, Pacheco added, speaking at a news conference in the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Photographs in Honduran media showed Caceres’s body shrouded in plastic and loaded onto the back of a pickup truck this morning en route to a morgue.

Caceres, 45, had four children, said her nephew, Silvio Carrillo, a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. “We are devastated by the loss of our fearless Bertita,” he said in a statement on behalf of the family.

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“We ask the international community and human rights organizations around the world to put pressure on their leaders to bring about justice,” the statement said. “Her murder is an act of cowardice that will only amplify Bertita’s message to bring about change in Honduras and make this a better, more humane world.”

Carrillo, 43, said he was raised in Washington because his mother — Caceres’s sister — and his father, a lawyer, were forced to flee Honduras in the 1970s in the face of death threats.

“This kind of violence is the reason they had to leave,” Carrillo said. “Nothing’s changed.”

Plagued by drug violence, gang warfare and extreme economic inequality, Honduras is also one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, LGBT activists and practically anyone who challenges powerful interests.

Leer en español.

GUSTAVO CASTRO was the sole witness to the murder on March 3 of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, the co-founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Movements of Honduras (COPINH). Castro, the director of Other Worlds, an environmental organization in Chiapas, Mexico, was also shot in the attack. After being barred from leaving Honduras, Castro was released on March 30 and has since settled in an undisclosed location. Last week he spoke by phone to The Intercept about the night of the murder and the reasons why environmental activism in Latin America is so dangerous.

Castro’s experience over the past month provides a remarkable glimpse into the Honduran justice system, which is notorious for its culture of impunity. In the months before her murder, Cáceres repeatedly said that she was being harassed by Desarrollos Energéticos, SA (DESA), the private energy company behind the Agua Zarca dam project, which she had vigorously opposed. After the murder, Cáceres’s family immediately pointed to DESA. On March 31, the Honduran public prosecutor’s office announced that it had seized weapons and documents from DESA’s office and questioned several employees.

Contacted for comment, DESA provided the following statement: “The board of directors of the company that is carrying out the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project has not given any declaration nor does it plan to do so until the authorities in charge of the investigation determine the causes and perpetrators of this regrettable incident that ended the life of the indigenous leader Berta Cáceres.”

What happened during your last hours with Berta Cáceres?

I arrived on March 1 in San Pedro Sula, and that day they put me up in another home that belongs to other COPINH members in La Esperanza. It had been years since I had seen Berta in person, although we had been in touch by email. I was there to facilitate a workshop on environmentalism. That day Berta said to me, brother, come to my house, I have internet so you can get in touch with your family. We spent a while talking, even discussing the threats that she had received in the past and in recent weeks — intimidation and threats to her safety by employees of DESA and people who seemed to be hit men contracted by DESA, the company behind the hydroelectric project called Agua Zarca.

And I said to Berta, this is a very isolated home, how is it that you live here alone? So I decided to stay the night. I started to get ready for the second day of the workshop, and she was in her room. At midnight, there was a loud bang on the door and immediately one hit man entered my room, and simultaneously another entered hers. Everything happened very quickly, within 30 seconds, in which simultaneously they assassinated her and shot me. They had clearly been following her and were expecting her to be alone, so I think it surprised them to find another person there and they didn’t know what to do, so they just shot me and ran away.

Were their faces covered?

I don’t know about the other one, but the one who shot me wasn’t masked. I wasn’t able to decipher his face well, but that’s the moment when I became the principal witness, and a protected witness.

When Berta told you that she had received threats from DESA and Agua Zarca, did she say at any point that the people threatening her were from Honduran state security forces? Or were they gang members, or just random individuals?

Human rights activists take part in a protest to claim justice after the murdered of indigenous activist leader Berta Caceres in Tegucigalpa on March 17, 2016. Caceres, a respected environmentalist who won the prestigious Goldman Prize last year for her outspoken advocacy, was murdered in her home on March 3, her family said. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA. / AFP / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)

Human rights activists take part in a protest to claim justice after the murdered of indigenous activist leader Berta Cáceres in Tegucigalpa on March 17, 2016.

Photo: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

I don’t remember her saying anything like that. She did say they were employees, people in favor of the company. In fact when I arrived in Mexico, on March 30, the public prosecutor’s office in Honduras published a press release publicly linking the company to their line of investigation. In the press release they also announced that they had seized weapons and questioned some of the company’s people. But they didn’t want to get to this point. Before coming to that line of investigation, I got the impression they wanted to see if another line of investigation could be useful or believable for national and international public opinion, but that was impossible. Everyone in COPINH already knew the recent history, so they had no other option than to finally go after the company. I’m unaware of any advances they’ve had in this line of investigation.Over the last decade there were more than 100 murders of environmentalists in Honduras. And these conflicts are often linked to the army and the police. That’s part of the reality of Honduras. In this specific case, Berta said that the guilty party was the company. It was the company with which she had a strong and direct confrontation.

At first we were hearing that they questioned you, took you to the airport, and then suddenly told you that you couldn’t leave the country. Is this how it happened?

The whole process was confusing and handled poorly. I spent the first three or four days in constant legal procedures in La Esperanza. I could have refused several times, because one has the right to solicit a six-hour prevention order as a victim and a protected witness. Nevertheless I never used this instrument, and every time they asked me to take part in more legal procedures, I did — at any hour, in the middle of the night, whenever. So I went nearly four days without sleeping. I gave the statement for the attorney general, the statement for the public prosecutor, medical examinations, cross-examinations, photographic identification, etc.

And, yes, at first they said I could go. They always said, just one more thing, and then just one more thing, and then it finally seemed like everything was done and ready. They even prepared a helicopter for me to get back to Tegucigalpa on March 5. But because of weather conditions they weren’t able to land the helicopter, so instead they deployed a security detail to accompany me to Tegucigalpa by land. Later, the public prosecutor’s office claimed I was trying to escape, which was a huge lie.

So I arrived at the Mexican Embassy, where the ambassador and the consul bought me a plane ticket for March 6 at 6:20 a.m. But when we got to the airport, Honduran officials were waiting in hiding around the airport for me, as if this were necessary, as if this were a criminal matter and as if I weren’t a protected witness and a victim. It was so shameless. It felt like having an army at my heels. And the ambassador and the consul were with me. Suddenly eight or 10 people from the attorney general’s office and the public prosecutor’s office stood in front of the door and said that I couldn’t leave. They wouldn’t hand over any official document explaining anything. I know that this government is the result of a coup, but this game was so ridiculous that even they had to ask for apologies from the ambassador and me. What they did was totally unnecessary. And obviously they had to justify themselves before the national and international press by claiming they thought I was fleeing. Even then I could have said I was leaving. Because of a convention on penal matters between Mexico and Honduras, as a victim and a protected witness, I had the right to participate in the legal procedures from Mexico. I’m not a criminal — I’m a victim. But they forgot that.

They said, we need just one more thing. So I asked for more protection for the ride back: a bulletproof vest and more bodyguards. What they originally said they needed was more testimony, but what it ended up being was more cross-examination. At the end of the night they produced a document saying it was necessary for me to stay 30 days more. That was also illegal — the judge used arguments based on international human rights laws regarding suspects. When my lawyer argued they were violating my rights, the judge not only removed her from the case but furthermore suspended her ability to practice law for 15 days.

The government wanted me under its control. It has no laws that protect victims. Nor does it have regulations or protocols or a budget to protect human rights activists. Nor does it have regulations for protected witnesses. So they wanted me under their so-called protection where there is no law that obligates them to do anything. Which is why I stayed in the Mexican Embassy. But it was a month of horrible stress and tension, in which the government, with its complete lack of regulations or protocols, could easily accuse me of anything at any moment, show up with a judicial order, and the Mexican Embassy wouldn’t have been able to do anything. One week before I arrived in Honduras, the Judicial Commission had been dissolved, so there was no legal instrument with which I could defend myself. There was no commission before which I could denounce a judge who acted illegally, because that commission had been dissolved. So I found myself in total legal defenselessness — without a lawyer, because they suspended her. And it seemed neither international pressure nor the Mexican government could do anything. So it was a state of complete insecurity and a constant violation of my human rights.

Did they ever try to accuse you of anything officially?

There wasn’t anything explicit. There were rumors in the press that the public prosecutor’s office was trying to justify involving me in the crime in some way. But with the evidence and my declarations, it was simply impossible for them to invent such a farce. No matter how many circles they ran around the matter, they eventually had to go to DESA. They had no other option. I had the sense that they wanted to keep me there while they were trying to find something. It was a horrible uncertainty, because you have no lawyer. They have the ability to leave you totally legally defenseless.

HONDURAS - APRIL 04: A 745-foot-high dam under construction for a future power plant (Photo by David A. Harvey/National Geographic/Getty Images)

A 745-foot-high dam under construction for a future power plant in Honduras, April 4, 1983.

Photo: David A. Harvey/National Geographic/Getty Images

How do you explain the fact that opposing dams is interpreted as a threat?

This isn’t true only in Honduras — also in Guatemala, Mexico, Chile, etc. One of the reasons is that these dams mean flooding out huge swaths of jungle, forest, and indigenous and campesino lands. And this causes a strong reaction from these communities, because there are thousands and thousands of them displaced violently.

Another reason is that one of the most profitable businesses at the moment is the sale of electrical energy, especially in Latin America, because free trade agreements are opening huge investments for transnational corporations. And what does this mean? For example, free trade agreements allow major investors to put up factories, industrial parks, infrastructure, and mines, which all consume a ton of electricity and a ton of water. And bear in mind that one gold mine can use between 1 and 3 million liters of water every hour. That implies relinquishing the water that belongs to communities, their rivers, and their wells — using it to instead generate electricity for the big industrial corridors. So the sale of energy, and thus investments in energy, is one of the most profitable businesses for big capital. But that means entering into battle over territory with campesino and indigenous communities.

Additionally, with the Kyoto Protocol they’ve invented the stupid idea that dams make “clean energy.” Thus in order to gain carbon credits and reduce their greenhouse gases, wealthy countries started investing in dams. That’s why we have a world full of dam construction.

In Latin America almost every country has free trade agreements with the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and many also with Asia. This means changing your constitution, your environmental legislation that concerns water, energy and foreign investment, in order to adopt and facilitate these free trade agreements. If you don’t, companies sue. For governments, it’s easier to repress people than to pay damages and compensation to corporations. A good example is the case of the gold mine in El Salvador. El Salvador has had to pay millions to defend itself against a mining company before the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. And we are talking about one mine. But imagine 10,000 or 15,000 — we are talking about thousands of mining concessions in the region. And to this if you add dams, and to that you add highways, ports, airports, mines, fracking, petroleum, huge shopping malls, tax-free zones, charter cities, huge elite tourist resorts — there are so many concessions.

If the human rights claims that activists make are actually upheld — contamination of water and land, violating previous and informed consent of communities — or if they kick out a company for dumping toxic waste into rivers, for murdering community members, for causing cancer around mining sites like we’ve seen in Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala — if governments have to do something about these human rights claims by kicking out the extractive industry, they’ll have to pay millions and millions of dollars that they don’t have. Each country would have to sell itself 20 times over to pay off the debt. So this is not easy to solve.

This leads to confrontation with communities. This will only deepen with things like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and governments prefer to react by criminalizing citizen protest. Peaceful protest used to be a human right. Now they call it “terrorism,” “violence.” They’re criminalizing human rights.

In a recent interview, Hillary Clinton said that the coup in Honduras was legal. What do you think about this statement?

It seems to me that in the end, the government had to justify a way for another group to come to power. And Honduras’s legal antiquity allows you to make any argument you want. For example, one of the reasons they gave for overthrowing Zelaya was that he proposed to modify the constitution to allow for re-election. Which the current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, is now trying to do, to modify the constitution to allow for re-election for him next year. So that’s why I say it depends on how you want to see it. If Zelaya proposes it, it’s unconstitutional and he has to go. If the oligarchy and the global hegemony says it, it’s legal, it’s democratic.

How do you see your future? Or are you living more day by day right now?

More day by day. Many are asking me if I’m going to throw in the towel, if I’m like the boxer who can’t take any more and gives up. I say no, I’m picking that towel up. This struggle must continue. I am not alone. Across Latin America there are thousands of people who are criminalized, who are being persecuted and threatened for defending human rights, who are defending the well-being of our planet. We must realize that that no one is exempt from this criminalization. Like so many friends who have been murdered for resisting. But there are many of us, and we will carry on.

The voracious capitalism we face cannot continue as is, with its accelerated and extractionist logic that is finishing off our planet. I think our great challenge is to realize that other worlds are possible. We can build something different, something dignified and just. There is enough water for everyone. There is enough land, enough food for everyone. We cannot continue feeding this predatory system of capital accumulation in the hands of so few. That system is unsustainable. So from wherever we are — in the Americas, in Europe, in Asia — we will all be affected by this system. Sometimes it seems that the crisis doesn’t touch certain places, and sometimes we don’t make the structural link to capitalism with the crises that the U.S. and Canada and France and Spain face. But I hope that we realize this soon, because it will affect us all sooner or later. And I want to say that there is still time to do something. This is urgent.

Top photo: Activist Gustavo Castro at a news conference at the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center in Mexico, April 4, 2016. Castro is a key witness in the March 3 fatal shooting of activist Berta Cáceres in Honduras.

A youth takes part in a protest seeking justice after the murder of indigenous activist leader Berta Cáceres in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 17, 2016.

Death Squads Are Back in Honduras, Activists Tell Congress

Apr. 12 2016, 7:35 a.m.

https://theintercept.com/2016/04/12/death-squads-are-back-in-honduras-honduran-activists-tell-congress/

THREE WEEKS AGO, Honduran activist Gaspar Sanchez spoke at a briefing on Capitol Hill, urging lawmakers to support an impartial investigation into the murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres.

Cáceres had mobilized native communities to speak out against the Agua Zarca Dam, a hydroelectric project backed by European and Chinese corporations, before being killed by two unknown gunmen last month.

Last week, back in Honduras at a protest outside the Honduran Public Ministry in Tegulcigalpa, Sanchez unfurled a banner demanding justice for Cáceres’s murder.

When nearby soldiers saw him, they dragged him away from the crowd and brutally beat him, stopping only after the crowd of protestors came to his defense.

Sanchez is a member of the organization Cáceres founded, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). The group’s leadership believes that Sanchez’s assault was meant to send a message against speaking out internationally, and that if the crowd had not intervened, Sanchez would likely have been imprisoned.

But Honduran activists are refusing to stay silent.

Back on Capitol Hill, two days after the beating, a panel of human rights leaders hosted by Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., spoke to lawmakers about the dangers of speaking out against the U.S.-backed Honduran government.

Victor Fernandez, a prominent human rights attorney and lawyer representing the Cáceres family, insisted that her assassination was carried out by either the Honduran government or by “the paramilitary structure of companies.”

“Honduras is the victim of international theft due to its national resources,” said Fernandez, speaking through a translator. “What we have now is our natural resources — minerals, rivers, forest. Cáceres was killed because she was confronting the extractive model.”

Bertha Oliva compared the current situation to the early 1980s, when the CIA funded, armed, and trained Honduran government death squads that murdered hundreds of opposition activists.

Oliva founded the Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH, by Spanish initials) in 1981, after government forces kidnapped her husband from their home. He was never seen again.

“When we first began in 1982, we faced death squads,” said Oliva, also speaking through a translator. “Now, it’s like going back to the past. We know there are death squads in Honduras.”

In 2009, a coup toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who had long been seen as a leftist threat to the interests of international corporations. In 2008, Zelaya blocked a series of hydroelectric dam projects, citing concerns raised by native Hondurans. Less than a year after he was deposed, the new government had already approved 40 dam contracts. When the current President Juan Orlando Hernández came to power in 2013, his slogan was “Honduras is open for business.”

The coup was accompanied by a huge rise in political violence. By 2012, state security forces had assassinated more than 300 people, and 34 members of the opposition and 13 journalists had disappeared, according to data compiled by Honduran human rights organizations. The political assassinations added to the emboldened violence from gangs and drug traffickers, making Honduras one of the most dangerous countries in the world. In 2012, Reuters reported that it had the highest murder rate of any country.

Although the murder rate has since declined, political violence in Honduras has continued. Since the end of 2012, at least 22 prominent environmental activists have been killed, according to Global Witness.

Due to the Honduran government’s abysmal human rights record, critics have called on the U.S. to stop supporting the coup regime.

Citing the flow of drugs as a rationale, the U.S. government gave at least $57 million in military aid to Honduras between 2009 and 2014, not including the tens of millions of dollars spent on U.S. military contracts in Honduras. The Pentagon has not released figures for 2015 or 2016.

The U.S. military also maintains a force of more than 600 troops in Honduras, as part of a program called “Joint Task Force Bravo.” U.S. Special Forces play a large role in training their Honduran counterparts. In February, the Wall Street Journal published a video report showing Green Berets teaching Honduran soldiers how to raid homes.

The U.S. also helps maintain at least 13 military bases in the country, three of which were built after the coup, according to David Vine, author of Base Nation.

Congress has placed restrictions on military aid to countries with poor human rights records, but the State Department rarely applies them. The “Leahy Law,” for example, requires the State Department to suspend military aid to any country that it determines “has committed a gross violation of human rights.” Congress has even singled out Honduras in State Department appropriations bills, requiring the Secretary of State to withhold aid if he finds the Honduran government did not “protect the right of political opposition parties, journalists, trade unionists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists to operate without interference.” The State Department, however, is still sending aid.

Under the spending laws passed last year, Congress can withhold 50 percent of the military aid budgeted to go through the State Department.

Following Cáceres’s murder, 62 members of Congress also signed a letter calling on the administration to “immediately stop all assistance to Honduran security forces … given the implication of the Honduran military and police in extrajudicial killings, illegal detentions, torture, and other violations of human rights.” More than 200 activist organizations signed a similar letter, requesting Secretary of State John Kerry suspend military aid until an independent investigation into Cáceres’s murder is completed.

Panelists at the briefing last Thursday argued that the Honduran government should receive the condemnation, not the assistance, of foreign governments.

Fernandez, Cáceres’s lawyer, said, “This government produces so much corruption, it can’t just have subtle backing from world governments.”

When asked by The Intercept whether U.S. aid is contributing to human rights violations in Honduras, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner responded by condemning Cáceres’s murder. “We strongly condemn the murder of civil society activist Berta Cáceres,” Toner said, “and extend our deepest condolences to her family, friends, and the people of Honduras, who have lost a dedicated defender of the environment and of human rights.” The Pentagon declined to comment, deferring to the State Department’s response. 

A Voice for Honduras’ Voiceless

The Lasting Legacy of Berta Cáceres

By Lauren Carasik

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/honduras/2016-03-22/voice-honduras-voiceless

Honduras is reeling from the assassination of prominent indigenous rights activist and environmental leader Berta Cáceres, who was gunned down in her home in La Esperanza on March 2. For years, she had faced death threats from industrialists who laid claim to the land of her people, the Lenca. Her hallmark fight pitted her against powerful figures who sought to dam the Gualcarque River—a sacred site for the Lenca. The construction would have threatened the indigenous group’s livelihood and spiritual connection to the river.

Cáceres’ most public battle may have focused on the small indigenous communities of Rio Blanco that live adjacent to the river, but her struggle was far from local—indeed, her efforts to protect indigenous land rights made her a national and global symbol, standing against transnational capitalism and the threat it poses not only to indigenous people throughout the developing world, but to global ecology as well. In the wake of Cáceres’ death, thousands mobilized to march in Tegucigalpa on March 17 and 18. Outside of Honduras, the killing has galvanized a groundswell of outrage as well. Hundreds of international organizations and academics have signed letters condemning the killing and demanding justice, and activists unfurled a protest banner in front of the headquarters of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington and disrupted a meeting of the Council of the Americas attended by U.S. ambassadors to Central America. Inside the beltway, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahydenounced the United States’ role in “supporting and profiting” from the “corruption and injustice” in Honduras, and 62 members of the House of Representatives have sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew to demand an independent investigation into Cáceres’ death and the suspension of U.S. military aid to Honduras. Washington is the Honduran government’s biggest patron, and it must now decide which side of the nation’s history it wishes to be on.

AGE OF RESISTANCE

Cáceres came of age during the 1980s, a decade marked by brutality across Central America. She was raised in a household that was steeped in the ideas and actions of resistance. The Cáceres family spent nights huddled around a radio listening to revolutionary dispatches from Nicaragua. Her mother, also named Berta, frequently took in refugees fleeing the civil war in El Salvador.

Cáceres first entered politics in 1993 when she co-founded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras(COPINH). COPINH sought to resist illegal logging and protect therights of indigenous people, a group historically excluded from Honduras’ political system. Cáceres soon emerged as a leader in a broader social movement that united a coalition of marginalized groups seeking greater political and economic inclusion. Cáceres spent the next 16 years advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples, women, and other marginalized groups. To advance those goals, she helped build a social movement in Honduras and established strong connections to groups across the region and around the world.

Her work became particularly urgent after the coup in Honduras in 2009 that ousted democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya. The president had laid the groundwork for populist changes which included land reform, efforts that were scrapped once Zelaya was out of office. Since then, life has become harder for activists of all stripes. Indeed, any groups who opposed the new regime’s neoliberal agenda became an official target for retribution.

Since the coup, successive administrations have courted foreign capital, engaged in privatization efforts, granted hundreds of hydroelectric and mining concessions to international corporations, and built infrastructure to support the accelerated exploitation of natural resources in Honduras. Among the projects was the Agua Zarca dam over the Gualcarque River—the issue the defined Cáceres efforts. The dam is being built by Desarrollos Energéticos, SA(DESA). Among the company’s owners is the powerful Atala family, suspected of ties to the coup, including Camilo Atala, president of theFicohsa Bank, the largest in the country. The Chinese hydroelectric engineering firm Sinohydro was initially overseeing the work with financing from the World Bank. But the protests over the construction compelled both to withdraw in 2013. Cáceres had also implored other foreign financiers, including the Dutch Development Bank FMO, the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation and German firms Siemens and Voith, to pull their funding. Mounting public pressure after the murder of Cáceres’ and COPINH activist Nelson Garcia two weeks later finally prompted the Dutch and Finnish banks to suspend disbursements on March 16, although they have not permanently withdrawn from the project.

JORGE CABRERA / REUTERS

The words “Berta Lives” are seen written in chalk to honour the slain environmental rights activist, Berta Caceres during a vigil to mark International Women’s Day in Tegucigalpa, Honduras March 8, 2016.

The heart of Cáceres’ strategy was to push the government to recognize that the COPINH’s demands were grounded in internationally recognized rights, including the right to prior and informed consent for projects that affect indigenous communities, and to target the project’s international financiers. At first, Cáceres and COPINH tried to block the Agua Zarca dam’s construction through political channels, including indigenous assemblies, public declarations opposing the dam, and legal challenges. When these failed and construction was set to begin in 2013, it seemed like the community was out of options.

The next salvo was peaceful protests. COPINH set up a roadblock that prevented DESA from accessing the river. DESA responded with a concerted campaign of harassment and intimidation that, at times, turned violent. Tomás Garciá, a COPINH protestor who was unarmed, was shot at close range and killed by a Honduran soldier in 2013. Two other members of COPINH have also been killed since then, and others have been attacked with machetes. Cáceres herself had been arrested on charges of illegal possession of a firearm (which she claimed was planted), as well on charges of usurpation, coercion, and damages as a result of the blockade. These charges were ultimately dismissed.

In the IACHR’s December 2015 Situation of Human Rights in Honduras report, the group specifically decried the criminalization of Cáceres’ protest movement. According to Global Witness, Honduras was the most deadly country in the world for environmental and land rights defenders in 2014.

In the end, COPINH’s orchestrated resistance to the Agua Zarca dam halted its construction in Honduras’ Rio Blanco community, but failed to thwart the project altogether. DESA moved the dam project across the river, near the town of San Francisco de Ojuera, where the company boasted of winning support for USAID projects. Construction began in August of 2015. The conflict simmered on, reaching a boiling point again on February 20, as security forces detained 100 protesters, including Cáceres, who had traveled to the new dam site to register their disapproval. Among those seeking to block the path of the protestors were members of the Honduran military. During the altercation, COPINH members reported that a local official told Cáceres that she would never come back to the project’s new site, and that she might be killed.

A man puts flowers on the coffin of slain environmental rights activist Berta Caceres at a cemetery in the town of La Esperanza, outside Tegucigalpa, Honduras March 5, 2016.
JORGE CABRERA / REUTERS
A man puts flowers on the coffin of slain environmental rights activist Berta Caceres at a cemetery in the town of La Esperanza, outside Tegucigalpa, Honduras March 5, 2016.

UNDER PRESSURE

Since Cáceres’ death, the Honduran government has yielded to tremendous public pressure and agreed to launch a prompt investigation into her murder.

Initial signals, however, have inspired little confidence. State investigators ignored the Cáceres family’s demand for an independent expert to attend the autopsy. The crime scene was compromised, and authorities were quick to suggest that her murder was either a crime of passion or a random robbery. Gustavo Castro Soto, a prominent Mexican environmental activist who was injured in the attack and is the sole eyewitness, provided testimony over multiple days in harsh conditions, but was prevented from leaving the country for 30 days, though he believes his life is in danger in Honduras. His lawyer’s license was suspended for 15 days after lodging a request that the decision to detain him in Honduras be revised. To this day, Castro remains in the Mexican Embassy compound in Tegucigalpa for his own safety, despite his stated desire to return home to his family. Intense and prolonged questioning of COPINH leaders have fueled concerns that Honduran authorities are more interested in extracting intelligence about Cáceres’ activist group to distract their efforts, rather than finding her murderer.

Cáceres’ family has expressed their doubts about the integrity of any investigation conducted by the Honduran government. They have demanded an independent international investigation to be overseen by the IACHR—one that could not only name the material perpetrators of the crime, but its masterminds as well, however high up the chain of command they may be. Honduran authorities have cited an agreement with the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights to accompany the investigation, but there is good reason to doubt that the local office has the capacity, expertise, and investigative authority necessary to ensure an independent inquiry.

STAYING SAFE
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Cáceres’ family and the international community have also demanded that the Honduran government implement the IACHR’s orders to keep members of COPINH safe. But activists cannot be protected with armed guards and cameras alone. Rather, Tegucigalpa must confront the root of the social conflict that claimed Cáceres’ life, by respecting the rights of indigenous people, and canceling the concession to the Agua Zarca dam and others. Short of this, the cycle of unrest and repression in Honduras is sure to continue.

As U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton provided tacit support for the administration of former Honduran interim President Roberto Micheletti despite near universal condemnation of his tenure. Cáceres herself criticized Clinton for opposing the demand for Zelaya’s reinstatement, which set the stage for a deepening of the human rights crisis inside the country. And despite pervasive and persistent reports of repression—some of which has been directly linked to Honduras’ state security forces—Washington has continued to provide security aid as well as development financing to Honduras.

When Cáceres won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, she dedicated it to “all the rebels out there, to my mother, to the Lenca people, to the Rio Blanco, and to the martyrs who gave their lives in the struggle to defend our natural resources.” She now takes her place on that list, but if her killers thought they could silence her voice and derail her mission, they were mistaken.

Links

  1. [1]  http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/honduran-activist-shot-killed-home-article-1.2552454
  2. [2]  http://www.britannica.com/topic/Lenca
  3. [3]  http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/08/20138510295334159.html
  4. [4]  https://intercontinentalcry.org/indigenous-peoples/lenca/
  5. [5]  http://fpif.org/one-year-resistance-rio-blanco/
  6. [6]  http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-death-of-berta-caceres
  7. [7]  http://web.mit.edu/urbanupgrading/upgrading/resources/organizations/USAID.html
  8. [8]  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/patrick-leahy/
  9. http://hankjohnson.house.gov/sites/hankjohnson.house.gov/files/documents/03_2016_Letter_Honduras_Berta_Caceres.pdf

10] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/03/04/who-murdered-environmental-activist-berta-caceres.html

[11] http://www.thenation.com/article/end-all-us-police-and-military-aid-honduras/

[12] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/regions/central-america-caribbean

[13] http://www.copinh.org/
[14] http://culturesofresistance.org/groups-we-support-COPINH
[15] http://copinhenglish.blogspot.com/
[16] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IPeoples/Pages/Declaration.aspx
[17] http://www.latinamericansocialmovements.org/honduras/
[18] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/world/americas/29honduras.html
[19] http://www.britannica.com/biography/Manuel-Zelaya
[20] http://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/227/european-funders-suspend-support-for-agua-zarca-dam
[21] http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapid=298110979
[22] http://cepr.net/blogs/the-americas-blog/new-report-details-multilateral-development-bank-us-role-in-human-rights- abuses-in-rio-blanco-honduras
[23] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-21/central-american-billionaires-discovered-amid-citi-asset-sales [24] http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2015/01/27/ficohsa-becomes-honduras-biggest-bank/

Berta Cáceres, ¡Presente!
When Berta Cáceres Flores was assassinated in a political murder on March 2, she was in the midst of an intense struggle in defense of the Gualcarque River, a sacred river for the Lenca people. She and the Lenca people of Rio Blanco had already blocked the Agua Zarca Dam from being built on the Gualcarque River one time, in 2013-2014 and now DESA was making a second attempt. During the 2013 struggle against the Agua Zarca Dam, Indigenous leader Tomas Garcia was murdered by the Honduran military, other Lenca leaders were attacked, Berta received numerous death threats, and the military detained Berta on trumped up charges. Soon a second set of charges followed, and Berta was ordered to jail. She went underground, and after months international outcry, the charges were eventually dismissed. However, DESA, the company trying to build the dam, appealed and requested the charges against Berta and two other COPINH leaders be reinstated.In approximately August of 2015, DESA began attempting a second time to build the Agua Zarca Dam, this time accessing the Gualcarque River from the opposite side of the river in San Francisco de Ojuera. Berta and many Lenca people again mobilized to defend the Gualcarque River and their ancestral territory.  As they organized to stop the dam, the situation again began to intensify.

On November 4, 2015, when Berta was not home, an unknown man took a laptop with significant COPINH information from her home.

On the night of November 6, 2015, three shots were fired towards Berta as she driving to Rio Blanco.

On November 24, 2015, Tomas Gomez, another COPINH leader, received a phone call from a man known to be a supporter of the dam company, who informed Tomas that they were going to fix things with Berta Cáceres for better or for worse, “a buenas o a malas.”

On November 30, 2015, Berta Cáceres and other COPINH leaders were traveling to request a meeting with the Mayor of San Francisco de Ojuera, who had authorized the dam, when the Honduran police detained their vehicles. While they were detained, machinery dug huge holes across the public roads to prevent COPINH from passing. After Berta and the rest of the COPINH members finally reached San Francisco de Ojuera, municipal employees began to throw rocks at them and threaten them, including a threat that Berta was the one “who had to be killed.” One of the armed men came close to Berta and almost cut her chest with a machete. All of this occurred as the Honduran police and military watched and did nothing, despite Berta requesting their protection. Finally, Berta called the Minister of Security, Julian Pacheco, and requested he relay orders for the police present to provide protection. Still, the police and military did not respond and the harassment continued.

Then in late December 2015, the Honduran police detained two men for illegal possession of weapons. Berta was informed that one of them is reported to have explained he was contracted by DESA because “the COPINH people were f**ing things up a lot.” This man was previously involved in a violent attack on a COPINH member who opposed the dam, and his police files indicate he was involved in a murder. Residents of Rio Blanco report that he had previously stated he was going to kill COPINH members, including Berta and Francisco Javier Sanchez, President of the Indigenous Council of Rio Blanco.  Berta received information that Jorge Avila – the head of security of DESA and former police official – moved money around to secure the release of those detained for illegal possession of weapons despite the murder in police file. Shortly after his release, this man was identified by Rio Blanco residents working with DESA’s security team without a uniform. In February 2016, Berta wrote a communique publicly denouncing the money provided for this man’s release and stated that there were known paramilitary guards working for DESA who made threats against COPINH members.

Early in February 2016, shots were fired in the vicinity of Berta’s home shortly before she arrived.

On February 16, Berta and other COPINH leaders were pursued by armed men as they left Rio Blanco, after visiting with the Lenca people in resistance to the Agua Zarca Dam on the Rio Gualcarque. The armed men pursued Berta’s vehicle on the isolated road for at least 20 minutes until Berta reached a town and stopped.

Then on February 20, 2016, as Berta and COPINH members traveled to San Francisco de Ojuera to protest the dam, employees of DESA and the Mayor’s office threatened, detained, and harassed them as well as vandalized the vehicles and buses as the police and military looked on. COPINH members report that the Vice Mayor of San Francisco de Ojuera threatened Berta, telling her she would never come back there and that she could be killed.

On February 25, as the police and military evicted about 50 COPINH families from their homes in Jarcia, Guinse, Intibuca, a member of the DGIC harassed Berta and told her the security forces would not respond if something happened to her.

On February 26, at 1:45pm, a new, double-cabin truck with polarized windows drove up the road leading to the COPINH office, stopping before reaching the office. A tall man with a military-style haircut got out and went outside the COPIN office and asked for Berta, while another man stayed in the running vehicle. When informed she was not there, he wanted to know where she was and her phone number. When asked to identify himself, he refused and left.

Despite all of this, and many additional threats, Berta and COPINH continued forward in the struggle to defend the Gualcarque River and all Lenca territory. Berta repeatedly denounced the concession of the Gualcarque River by the Honduran government to DESA in violation of the Lenca people’s right to free, prior, and informed consultation. She also spoke against the violence, militarization, hitmen, and repression that DESA and the Honduran state were using to impose the dam. Berta denounced the Dutch Bank FMO and the Finnish Bank Finnfund, majority owned by the Dutch and Finnish governments respectively, for financing DESA for the Agua Zarca Dam project despite having been informed of the human rights violations around the dam. Berta was in the process of planning a trip to Holland and Finland in which she and Rio Blanco Lenca leaders would protest the financing of the dam and request Dutch and Finnish government leaders take action to stop the funding.

On March 2, 2016, DESA’s head of security was spotted in a vehicle with about 16-20 people, at the turn off from Honduras’ main highway to La Esperanza, where Berta lives.  The men were speaking about Berta.  The vehicle headed toward La Esperanza.

That night, two men forced their way into Berta’s home and Berta was assassinated.

Berta was a voice not only for the self-determination of the Lenca people but for all Hondurans. She was a very outspoken leader against the 2009 military coup and the resulting repressive regimes. She led COPINH in supporting numerous Lenca communities struggling against displacement, dams, privatization of their resources, and megaprojects imposed on their territory against their will. She was a national leader in the struggle against the ultra-neoliberal plan being imposed on Honduras, which entails the privatization and exploitation of almost everything possible, and the brutal repression against those who resist. Berta spoke out against the US backed Alliance for Prosperity plan being put in place in Central America, clearly explaining that its militarization and economic privatization and exploitation projects will only bring more destruction and death to Honduras. She was a leader in the Platform of Popular and Social Movements of Honduras, pushing for national articulation of the social movements. She loudly criticized the current regime for its repression of Honduran society, and refused to be silent. No matter how many death threats she received, no matter how many times she was followed, pursued, or threatened, Berta would not be silenced.

And she must not be silenced today. Berta’s voice and struggle must continue to be heard. I can hear her right now, asking us to go to Rio Blanco to accompany the Lenca people as they are criminalized and repressed for resisting the dam. I can hear her asking us to organize to pressure FMO and Finnfund to cut their funding to the dam and to demand that the Honduran military and US-backed TIGRES leave Lenca territory. And I can hear her loudly and clearly telling US Congresspeople, just as she did in meetings barely a year ago, to stop supporting the Honduran regime, to cut all Honduran military funding, to end the Alliance for Prosperity. I can hear her voice denouncing international banks and multinational corporations who together with the current Honduran regime and the support of the US plunder the Honduran territory and its people. I can hear her calling for an end to the criminalization of COPINH and for respect for the self-determination of the Lenca people.

More than anything, I can clearly hear Berta saying that the female spirits of the Lenca people live in the Gualcarque River.

The Clinton-Backed Honduran Regime Is Picking Off Indigenous Leaders

The names of Berta Cáceres’s murderers are yet unknown. But we know who killed her.