Archive for the ‘Environmentalist in Honduras’ Category

Under the Gun: An Investigation Into the Murder of Berta Cáceres

Honduras is the most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental activist

Photos by Mónica González Islas

  • A march in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, on the anniversary of Berta Cáceres’s assassination.

     

GUSTAVO CASTRO WAS IN BED, working on his laptop, when he heard a loud noise. It sounded like someone was breaking open the locked kitchen door. From the bedroom across the hall, his friend Berta Cáceres screamed, “Who’s out there?” Before Castro had time to react, a man kicked down his bedroom door and pointed a gun at his face. It was 11:40 P.M. on March 2, 2016.

Castro, a Mexican activist who had spent his life involved in a range of social justice campaigns, was in La Esperanza, Honduras, to coordinate a three-day workshop on creating local alternatives to capitalism. Cáceres—one of the most revered environmental, indigenous, and women’s rights leaders in Honduras—had invited Castro to conduct the workshop for members of her organization, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known by its Spanish acronym, COPINH. When he accepted the invitation to travel to Honduras, Castro knew that it could be dangerous, though he had no idea exactly how grave it would turn out to be.

Berta Caceres Zuniga (daughter of Berta Caceres) stands next to the Gualcarque River, which her mother died protecting. Berta Cáceres Zúñiga (daughter of Berta Cáceres) stands next to the Gualcarque River, which her mother died protecting. 

In recent years, Honduras had become a global leader on lists having to do with violence: the highest number of homicides per capita, the world’s second-most-murderous city (San Pedro Sula), and the most dangerous place on the planet to be an environmental advocate. As the most prominent spokesperson for a fierce indigenous campaign to stop the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River, Cáceres was no stranger to threats. The struggle over the proposed Agua Zarca dam had become a major political controversy. On one side were the indigenous Lenca people of COPINH, who had staged road blockades, sabotaged construction equipment, and appealed to international lenders to halt financing for the project. On the other were some of Honduras’s wealthiest families, many of them with close ties to the military. Cáceres’s leadership against the dam had earned her much attention, both positive and negative. In 2015, she received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize—and leading up to it, she also had received beatings from security forces and some 30 death threats, and spent a night in jail on fabricated charges.

Castro and Cáceres had been friends for more than 15 years and had collaborated on opposing the Free Trade Area of the Americas, open-pit mining, water privatization, and militarization. Castro’s workshop in La Esperanza was focused on developing strategies for moving beyond protest-centered social movements, and Cáceres had been energized by the sessions. That day she left repeated WhatsApp messages for her daughter, Berta Cáceres Zúñiga, who had just left Honduras to resume her graduate studies in Mexico. “She was really happy,” Cáceres Zúñiga said.

After the first day’s workshop, Cáceres had invited Castro to spend the night at her home so that he could have a quiet place to work. They arrived sometime around 10:30 P.M. after driving a mile and a half down a lonely dirt road from the center of La Esperanza. Castro remembers commenting on how isolated the property was. “How is it that you live here alone?” he asked Cáceres as they pulled up to the house.

The old friends spent some time talking on the front porch, and then each went to their own room. It was nearing midnight when the gunmen forced their way into the house and he heard Cáceres’s screams. “That’s when I realized we were dead,” Castro said.

Berta Caceres's sister and motherBerta Cáceres’s sister and mother 

In the instant before a shot was fired at him, Castro looked past the gun barrel and into the gunman’s eyes. “When I saw in his eyes the decision to kill me, I instinctively moved my hand and head,” Castro told me, showing me the scar on the back of his hand and lifting up his hair to reveal where a bullet had removed the top of his ear. “The killer experienced an optical illusion that he had shot me in the head. Because in the instant that he fired, I was still. But a millionth of a second before, I moved my hand and head. If I had moved a millionth of a second later, we wouldn’t be sitting here.”

Castro threw himself to the ground and lay still, pretending he was dead. He was bleeding from his ear, which was covered by his thick, curly hair. The gunman turned and walked out of the house.

“A few seconds later,” Castro said, “Berta screamed, ‘Gustavo! Gustavo!’ And I went to her room to help her. But it wasn’t more than a minute before Berta died. I said goodbye to her, grabbed the phone, and went back to my room to start calling people so that someone could come and rescue me. It didn’t take more than 30 seconds, a minute, from the time the killers entered to when they left. Everything happened so quickly. They were there to kill her. It was a well-planned assassination. The only thing they hadn’t anticipated is that I would be there.”

It was two days before Cáceres’s birthday. She would have turned 45.

 

IN 2010, THE RESIDENTS OF RÍO BLANCO, a Lenca community on the banks of the Gualcarque River, noticed workers with heavy machinery. They were “making roads where they had no business making roads,” said Rosalina Domínguez, a community leader there. The Lenca wasted no time in making their opposition known. “We confiscated one of their tractors,” Domínguez recalled. “We didn’t let them get much work done.”

A few months later, a group of men arrived in Río Blanco to show promotional videos for the hydroelectric dam they wanted to build, and to tell the community about the studies they had already done on the proposed project. People were unimpressed by the gesture. “Who gave you permission to conduct those studies?” they asked. An engineer said that the dam would provide the community with jobs, schools, and scholarships for their children. “We told him that it sounded like a bunch of promises that they would never follow through on,” Domínguez said. “So the community told him that we wouldn’t accept the project and that if someday they decided to try and build it anyway, the community would stand up and fight.”

In 2012, the company behind the proposed Agua Zarca dam, Desarrollos Energéticos (or DESA), sought to buy the land along the riverbanks. According to Dominguez, out of some 800 community members, only seven wanted to sell. A year later, the company moved ahead with construction anyway. In March 2013, a number of indigenous farmers walked out to their corn and bean fields to find they were no longer there. “We decided to fight when we saw how they destroyed the cultivated fields without so much as talking to the owners,” Domínguez said. “They plowed straight through the ears of corn and the beanstalks. That is when we blocked the road.”

Indigenous environmentalist Berta Caceres's house, outside La Esperanza, HondurasBerta Cáceres’s home, outside La Esperanza, Honduras 

Two days after the Lenca community set up its road blockade, Berta Cáceres arrived. Domínguez and Cáceres had met in 2009, when Cáceres went to Río Blanco to give a talk about the international laws protecting indigenous communities’ rights and to make a case for the importance of protecting the river. When Cáceres returned in April 2013 at the start of the road blockade, “she joined the struggle unequivocally,” Domínguez said. “She stayed with us day and night.”

United in its determination to halt the dam, the community of Río Blanco possessed a clear moral and legal stature: International law states that indigenous communities must give prior consent for projects like Agua Zarca, consent that the dam builders had not received. Cáceres brought to the conflict a strategic savvy honed during 20 years of social-change organizing. Her life to that point had prepared her for this very struggle.

Berta Flores Cáceres was born in La Esperanza in 1971 to a politically active family. Her mother, Austra Bertha Flores López, worked for decades as a midwife, assisting thousands of natural births in the Honduran countryside. She was also—while working full-time and raising 12 children, of whom Berta was the youngest—three times the mayor of La Esperanza, once the governor of the department of Intibucá, and later a member of Honduras’s congress.

Berta took to politics early. At age 12, she ran for student council and began participating in street demonstrations. During political meetings at the family home, she met Salvador Zúñiga  the man with whom she would eventually have four children and share more than 20 years of grassroots struggle. When she was 17, the couple had their first child, a daughter, shortly before crossing the border into El Salvador to join the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front guerrilla army during that country’s brutal civil war. Her mother speaks of this with pride: “She went to fight, rifle in hand.”

After the war ended, in 1992, Zúñiga and Cáceres returned to Honduras, had their second daughter, Berta, and made a pact to never go to war again. “We understood that war was repugnant,” Zúñiga said. “It was the worst thing that could happen to people.” They committed themselves to “active nonviolence” and together founded COPINH.

In the subsequent years, Cáceres, Zúñiga, and COPINH would lead major indigenous marches to Tegucigalpa, the capital, and establish two autonomous indigenous municipalities—the first in Honduran history. Using grassroots organizing and lawsuits, they were able to halt the voracious logging in Intibuca. They also founded a women’s health center and five indigenous radio stations and established a social-movement training and retreat center on 10 acres of land in La Esperanza. “The whole world admired her,” her mother said. “She traveled abroad to help, to give trainings, to give talks, and to carry the message of what was happening here. She had this immense ability to defeat, a little bit, the huge power of the businesses and the big landowners that were her enemy.”

When Cáceres arrived in Río Blanco in the spring of 2013 to help stop the proposed Agua Zarca dam, she brought with her not only the skills of a seasoned organizer but also a national profile that was essential to elevating the struggle. As the blockade continued, DESA engineers and security personnel repeatedly threatened Río Blanco community members, though Cáceres soon became the focal point for threats and intimidation. DESA charged that the Lenca people—though they were living in their communities and farming their ancestral lands—were trespassing. On several occasions, the police dismantled the COPINH roadblocks, and each time the community put the blockade back in place. In mid-May, the Honduran government deployed the military. Soldiers from the Battalion of Engineers established a base camp inside DESA’s facilities.

The close cooperation between the dam builders and the military was part of a larger relationship. DESA’s executives and board of directors come from the Honduran military and banking elite. DESA’s secretary, Roberto Pacheco Reyes, is a former justice minister. The company president, Roberto David Castillo Mejia, is a former military intelligence officer accused of corruption by the Honduran government’s public auditor’s office. The vice president, Jacobo Nicolas Atala Zablah, is a bank owner and a member of one of Honduras’s wealthiest families.

Within days of the soldiers’ appearance at the site, someone planted a handgun in Cáceres’s car. She had already been searched at several police checkpoints when a subsequent military search suddenly revealed a firearm in her vehicle. Cáceres was arrested and taken to jail. She was able to post bail, and the gun charges were dropped, but then DESA filed a lawsuit against her for illegally occupying company land, and the Honduran federal prosecutors added sedition charges for good measure. Fearful of being arrested again, Cáceres went underground as her attorney fought the charges.

Under the Gun: An Investigation into the Murder of Berta Cáceres

“Everything against Berta shows that there is a connection between the military and the company,” said Brigitte Gynther, who has been working in Honduras with the School of the Americas Watch since 2012. “It was the military that had Berta arrested. The collusion between the military and DESA has been a constant since the beginning.”

Then the standoff turned deadly. On July 15, 2013, COPINH staged a peaceful protest at the dam company’s office. The demonstration had barely started when soldiers opened fire on the COPINH activists at close range, killing community leader Tomas Garcia and wounding his 17-year-old son, Alan.

The military’s attack on unarmed protesters marked a turning point. In August 2013, the giant Chinese dam-construction company Sinohydro pulled out of the project, citing the ongoing community resistance. The International Finance Corporation, a private-sector arm of the World Bank that had been considering investing in the dam, announced that it would not support the project. With funding in jeopardy, work on the dam limped along.

In the spring of 2015, Cáceres traveled to the United States to receive the Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership in the dam struggle. Sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize of the environmental movement, the award recognizes individuals who take great personal risks to protect the environment. In that sense, Cáceres was an ideal recipient. Since the dam conflict had begun, she had received many death threats. At one point, another activist had shown her a military hit list with her name at the top. (The Guardian later published an interview with a former Honduran special forces soldier who confirmed the existence of the hit list.)

Many of Cáceres’s friends and colleagues hoped the Goldman Prize would help protect her. “They gave her the Goldman, and I went with her [to the ceremony],” said Melissa Cardoza, a feminist organizer and writer who was a close friend of Cáceres’s. “And I thought, OK, she’s in the clear. This is going to back her up. Because for a long time she told me, ‘They are going to kill me because they won’t be able to put up with our winning this struggle.'”

 

GUSTAVO CASTRO WAS STILL bleeding from his wound when the cellphone of his dead friend rang. It was Karen Spring, a Canadian activist with the Honduras Solidarity Network. Spring was lying in bed around 1 A.M. on March 3, 2016, when she received a voicemail from a friend who said that Cáceres had been murdered and a Mexican activist was stuck in her house, wounded. When Spring called Cáceres’s number, Castro answered. “I asked him how badly he was injured,” Spring remembered. “He said that he was bleeding from the ear, that there was a lot of blood, but that he was OK.” Castro was terrified that the killers would return and was desperate to get out of the house. He asked Spring if he should call the police, and Spring said she would first try to get COPINH members to rescue him. “You can’t call the police,” Spring told me. “It’s like calling the mafia to the crime scene.”

From the beginning of the investigation, the police tried to blame the murder on someone from COPINH. They repeatedly interrogated Tomás Gómez Membreño, a veteran COPINH member who was among the first to arrive at the murder scene and help Castro. For two days, they detained Cáceres’s onetime boyfriend Aureliano Molina, even though he had not been in La Esperanza on the night of the murder. As detectives interrogated Gustavo Castro to draw a portrait of the man who had shot him, they ignored Castro’s descriptions and kept trying to draw a portrait of Molina. “I realized this days later,” Castro said, “when I saw his picture in the newspapers and I said to myself, ‘That’s the man they were trying to draw.'”

The police initially attempted to involve Castro in the murder. They kept him for days without medical attention, interrogating him at the crime scene over and over. After they told him that he was free to return to Mexico, he was nearly arrested at the airport. Fortunately for him, the Mexican ambassador was accompanying him, and she literally wrapped her arms around Castro and declared, “Consular protection,” allowing him to leave the airport, though not the country. After yet more interrogation, Castro was finally able to return to Mexico and reunite with his family almost a month later.

Two months after Cáceres’s murder, amid massive national and international outcry, Honduran officials began to make arrests. Analyzing phone records, prosecutors sketched an alleged web of complicity involving eight people: an active military officer, Major Mariano Díaz; two DESA employees, an Agua Zarca manager named Sergio Ramón Rodríguez and Douglas Geovanni Bustillo, an ex-military man who was DESA’s chief of security between 2013 and 2015; two former soldiers, Edilson Atilio Duarte Meza and Henry Javier Hernández Rodríguez; and three civilians with no known connections to DESA or the army, Emerson Eusebio Duarte Meza (Edilson’s brother), Óscar Aroldo Torres Velásquez, and Elvin Heriberto Rápalo Orellana. (According to the Guardian, both Díaz and Geovanni Bustillo received military training in the United States.) Honduran officials charged all eight with murder and attempted murder; all but one of the suspects have denied any involvement with the murder.

The arrests immediately cast a shadow on the Agua Zarca dam. Even after Cáceres’s murder, DESA had kept working on the dam. When federal police arrested two DESA employees in connection with the murder, the company halted work. The project remains suspended today. (DESA did not respond to interview requests via email and phone. In statements to the press, the company has repeatedly denied any connection to Cáceres’s murder.)

The Cáceres family and members of COPINH pointed out that investigators had failed to apprehend, or investigate, any possible high-level intellectual authors of the murder. “The public prosecutor accused her of being an instigator and of stealing from a company [DESA]. And now that same institution and the same individuals are the ones investigating her murder,” said Victor Fernández, COPINH’s attorney. “According to the prosecutor’s hypothesis, they have arrested the material authors and the intermediaries. But not the main perpetrators.”

COPINH and the Cáceres family also complained that the investigation had been compromised by political espionage that appears to have accompanied the police inquiry. The entire case file, for example, was supposedly stolen from the trunk of a judge’s car. Cáceres’s house was sealed and guarded by police and soldiers for five months after the murder, as the federal prosecutor’s office conducted its investigation. But when federal officials finally allowed Cáceres’s family back into the property, they realized the house had been broken into while under federal control. Police seals on the home and on Cáceres’s possessions inside were broken, and her two computers, three cellphones, and numerous external hard drives and flash drives were missing. “They stole all the information about COPINH that was in the house,” Cáceres Zúñiga said, referring to government officials.

The Cáceres family’s suspicions about the official investigation are inseparable from the broader atmosphere of distrust that has gripped Honduras since the country’s president, Manuel Zelaya, was overthrown in a 2009 military coup. Zelaya had raised the national minimum wage, proposed turning the massive U.S. military base in Honduras into a national airport, and made promises to indigenous and farmer organizations that he would grant their land claims. Such a program ran counter to the interests of Honduras’s entrenched elite, which deposed him in the middle of the night and put him on a plane in his pajamas. “The right wing didn’t just carry out a coup d’etat; they safeguarded their economic project,” Fernández said. “That is, they used the coup to produce a series of legislative reforms and institutional restructuring that gave them control over key areas and the whole process of remilitarizing the country.”

Soon after the coup, in 2010, a single act of congress granted 41 concessions for hydroelectric dams on rivers across the country. In April of that year, the Honduran government held an international investment convention called “Honduras Is Open for Business.” The country’s mining regulations were relaxed, and a moratorium on new mines was repealed. According to human rights groups, illegal logging increased in the wake of the coup. At the same time, threats against, and murders of, activists began to climb.

“Everything that is happening now stems from the coup,” Cáceres Zúñiga said. “It was the opening of everything that Honduras is going through now. All the violence, corruption, territorial invasions—that is the coup.”

Cáceres was a national leader of the resistance movement against the coup. She took to the streets and to the airwaves. She traveled to El Salvador to participate in a protest outside the building where the Organization of American States was meeting to discuss whether to allow Honduras back into the organization. By the time she took the helm of the struggle against the Agua Zarca dam, the coup government had identified her as an adversary. It was in this context that she became the target of a vicious smear campaign apparently orchestrated by DESA and Honduran officials. “There was this constant defamation campaign, especially for her as a woman. She was painted as this vicious, horrible person,” said Gynther, of the School of the Americas Watch.

Of the eight people currently under arrest and awaiting trial, only one, Hernández Rodríguez, has given detailed testimony that is admissible in court. Hernández Rodríguez was arrested in January 2017 while working at a barbershop in Reynosa, Mexico, and extradited to Honduras. He had been a Honduran special forces sniper with the rank of sergeant stationed in the Lower Aguán Valley and had served directly under Major Díaz. After he left the military, he went to work as a private security supervisor for a palm oil corporation, Dinant, also in the Lower Aguán (see “No One Investigates Anything Here”).

I was able to gain access to an audio recording of Hernández Rodríguez’s testimony. His description of the mechanics of the murder coincides with the physical evidence in Cáceres’s house and with Castro’s eyewitness testimony. While Hernández Rodríguez says that he cooperated with the assassination only under duress and that he didn’t carry a gun the night of the murder, his confession offers some new details. According to Hernández Rodríguez, the murder was planned well in advance: He and Geovanni Bustillo visited La Esperanza in late January and early February. Hernández Rodríguez admits to experience in this kind of political violence: Police have cellphone recordings of him bragging about committing a previous murder and discussing with Díaz what appear to be the logistics for the assassination of Cáceres. And he confirms, using their nicknames, the identities of the men who entered Cáceres’s house and shot Berta and Gustavo: Rápalo Orellana and Torres Velásquez.

Yet all of the physical evidence and testimony still do not answer the question of who, exactly, ordered the assassination. When asked this question by investigators, Hernández Rodriguez responded, “They only said that it was a job that had begun and that it had to be finished. That’s all they said.”

The long-running campaign against Cáceres—plus the alleged involvement of active and former military officers and DESA employees in the coordination and carrying out of the murder—has fueled suspicions that her murder was ordered by people highly placed in the Honduran government, military, and economic elite. (Honduran officials have denied any state connection to the murder.) But, according to COPINH members and Cáceres’s family, police have not sought to establish who was behind the assassination.

The question facing Honduran social movements and the Honduran government is, Will those responsible get away with murder?

 

A YEAR AFTER HER ASSASSINATION, I went to Cáceres’s home with her daughter. The small green house is surrounded by empty fields and a few other new houses and has beautiful views of the nearby mountains. Cáceres had only recently finished making payments on the home, with funds from the Goldman Prize, when she was killed. At the spot where her mother died, Cáceres Zúñiga maintains a thick circle of cypress and guava leaves from her grandmother’s backyard, arranged around a candle on the floor.

As Cáceres Zúñiga walked me through the property, explaining her understanding of what happened the night of the murder, she expressed frustration at how her mother has been remembered since the assassination. Too often, she scoffed, Berta Cáceres is reduced to being just an “environmentalist” or “Goldman Prize winner,” when in fact she was much more than that. I heard similar complaints from everyone who knew and loved Cáceres.

“It really hurts me when they only call her an environmentalist,” Miriam Miranda told me. “Berta was a feminist, indigenous woman of struggle who definitely fought for natural resources, but she was profoundly feminist.” Miranda is the leader of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, and over the course of 25 years of shared struggle, she and Cáceres developed a deep friendship. She has survived beatings and assassination attempts and, since Cáceres’s murder, has become probably the highest-profile social-movement leader in Honduras. “They ripped out a part of my life,” Miranda said. “[Berta] was always there with me in the hardest moments of my life.”

During the demonstrations and vigils marking the first anniversary of her murder, I heard the following chant over and over: “Berta did not die. She became millions!” In the wake of political murder, one task of survivors is to refuse the logic of killing: the fear, hopelessness, and paralysis. To honor the fallen and what they offered, one must not only continue the struggle but fight harder and become one of the millions in whom those like Cáceres live on.

“Her life’s work was insurrection,” said Melissa Cardoza, the feminist organizer and writer. “One day I was with her when she was being arrested. The police were taking down her information, and I was with her. And the cop asked her, ‘What is your profession?’ And she said, ‘I’m a professional agitator.’ The cop said, ‘I can’t put that down.’ And she asked why not? ‘Because it doesn’t exist,’ the cop said. And so she turns to me and says, ‘You tell them. I’m a professional agitator.’ And so I told the cop, ‘Well, it’s true. That’s what she does.’

“That was our Bertita.”

This article appeared in the July/August 2017 edition with the headline “Under the Gun.”

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

(written by Silvio Carrillo, nephew of Berta Cáceres, who lives in California)

It happened again in Honduras

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 7.00.54 PM

It happened again in Honduras. Another environmental activist has been murdered.

Yaneth Urquia, a 49-year-old mother of three, was a member of COPINH, an indigenous rights group that was co-founded by my aunt Berta Cáceres, who was also murdered for her activism.

Authorities claim Yaneth’s murder was either a robbery gone awry, an extortion case, and/or a family dispute. Basically anything to make it seem like it wasn’t a politically motivated killing.

Yaneth’s body was found near a garbage dump, with severe injuries to her head.

It seems like a horrible repeat of what happened to my aunt. Hours after Berta was killed in her home last March, authorities claimed her murder was an attempted robbery. Then they said it was a crime of passion, or possibly some other type of power struggle.

None of those theories are true. Today, there are five people in custody for Berta’s assassination, including at least one member of an elite Honduran Army battalion who received training from U.S. forces, according to media reports. But the intellectual authors remain free.

Similar to my aunt Berta, Yaneth had been fighting against the construction of a hydroelectric dam that was being built on Lenca land without their consultation or approval. The dam project is owned by Arnoldo Castro, husband of Gladys Lopez, the vice president of the Congress and head of the ruling National Party.

Here are two things that weren’t reported in local and international press. Yaneth’s murder, which happened in normally peaceful town of Marcala (population 30,000), was the fourth to occur there in a week. And, the day Yaneth was killed, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez was in Marcala for a surprise visit—something that some people in town saw as a sign of official intimidation by the National Party.

Yaneth’s assassination is part of a well-documented pattern of intimidation and harassment against those who stand up to business interests promoted by Honduras’ elite. Arnold Castro got his government concession to build the Santa Elena dam an hour from Marcala without ever consulting the Lenca indigenous people who have lived on the land for generations. Neither he, nor his wife, have been linked to her killing.

Notwithstanding the fact that Honduras’ crime rate is one of the highest in the world, the string of murders is not related to random acts of violence. They are calculated acts of social control. An acquaintance of mine whose family lives in Marcala and is also an activist and organizer for indigenous and environmental rights tells me her family’s house has been shot at several times. It’s a clear message.

Despite the overwhelming amounts of evidence of collusion and corruption within Hernandez’ administration, the U.S. continues its unabashed support for this criminal syndicate that calls itself a government. U.S. Ambassador James Nealon has even told local media that the U.S. “is proud to work with” President Hernandez.

Well, I am Honduran-American, and that partnership doesn’t make me proud.

Honduras Lenca Communities Reject Energy Project After Murder

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Honduras-Lenca-Communities-Reject-Energy-Project-After-Murder-20160711-0015.html

Friends and supporters gather near the coffin of Lesbia Yaneth Urquia, member of COPINH, before her burial, in Marcala, Honduras, July 8, 2016.

Friends and supporters gather near the coffin of Lesbia Yaneth Urquia, member of COPINH, before her burial, in Marcala, Honduras, July 8, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Although the local population is overwhelmingly against the Los Encinos dam, their resolution is non-binding, and unlikely to deter government officials.

Lenca communities in the western Honduran region of La Paz have voted overwhelmingly against a controversial hydroelectric dam in their territory against the construction of a hydroelectric dam, which sparked an Indigenous resistance movement following the 2009 U.S.-backed coup. 

 

Ninety percent of the 1,200 Hondurans who cast ballots in 15 pollintg places across nine communities Sunday voted against the dam on the Chinacla river in the municipality of Santa Elena.  The Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz, also known as MILPAH, has been fighting for recognition of their land rights since 2010 when the redevelopment project by the corporation, Los Encinos, was approved without any community input.

The struggle launched into the international spotlight last month, when local activist Ana Mirian Romero won the annual international Front Line Defenders Award for her commitment for fighting for human rights despite threats against her life.

The communities consulted in Sunday’s vote also rejected the creation of a land register that would have pave the way for further division of Lenca territories.

 

The vote comes after another member of MILPAH’s sister movement COPINH, Lesbia Yaneth Urquia, was murdered last week, just four months after internationally-renowned leader Berta Caceres was shot dead in her home on March 3. Another COPINH member, Nelson Garcia, was assassinated less than two weeks after Caceres.

Romero and other MILPAH activists have also faced death threats and a slew of other personal harassment and intimidation as a result of her involvement in the movement.

Leading up to Sunday’s vote, over a year in the making, MILPAH accused local officials, including the mayor of Santa Elena, of trying to frustrate their attempts to hold the consultation. The movement insisted that the “intimidating acts,” including Yaneth Urquia’s murder, would not stop the vote from going forward.

Hydroelectric companies and other developmen5t projects began surfacing in Santa Elena and surrounding Lenca communities, following the 2009 military coup against former President Manuel Zelaya, which was supported by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That was the same time that Hondurans indigenous communities began experiencing an escalation of government repression.

The Los Encinos hydroelectric project on the Chinacla river, a sacred site in Lenca spirituality and important for the subsistence of local communities, has also been controversial for its links to the country’s political elite. According to the human rights organization Rights Action, the dam is part of an energy project funded by Gladys Aurora Lopez, a lawmaker with the ruling right-wing National Party and Vice President of Congress.

COPINH has specifically singled out Lopez — along with the Honduran government and military — for responsibillity in Yaneth Urquia’s murder and a  “permanent source of threats” in La Paz by promoting controversial energy projects.

But while the nine Lenca communities have ratified their rejection of the Los Encinos dam with a resounding “no” vote, the overwhelming precedent in the country suggests that the government will continue to violate the community’s internationally-enshrined Indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent for all development projects on their traditionally territory.

COPINH and other Indigenous movements have repeatedly called for an end to all corporate projects on Lenca territory to “put a stop to death, impunity, and injustice” in Honduras.

In the Aftermath of the Murder of Berta Cáceres: Squashing Indigenous Resistance and Discrediting International Observers in Honduras

by James Phillips

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/07/12/in-the-aftermath-of-the-murder-of-berta-caceres-squashing-indigenous-resistance-and-discrediting-international-observers-in-honduras/

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 10.23.18 AM

People who work for human rights, the rights of Indigenous communities, protection of our global environment, and social justice, are demanding justice after the murder of Berta Cáceres. She was killed in early March when gunmen broke into her house and shot her. It is abundantly clear to many Hondurans and international supporters and observers that her killing was political. Cáceres was the charismatic leader of COPINH, an organization begun in 1993 by Lenca communities in Honduras to promote their rights and protect their traditional lands, and to work with other Indigenous and popular organizations.

In the three years before her murder, Cáceres led COPINH in actively opposing construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam across the sacred Gualcarque River that runs through traditional Lenca lands in western Honduras. For her work she was awarded the international Goldman Prize in 2015 for Indigenous environmental activism. Cáceres helped to bring the Lenca struggle into global awareness, delivering an impassioned acceptance speech upon receiving the award in San Francisco. In Honduras, the Lenca and other Indigenous communities are widely seen as the front line of defense of the environment and the nation’s natural resources.

But Cáceres’ work also roused the fear and concern of those who wanted the dam as part of a larger economic development plan for Honduras that promoted foreign investment and large-scale resource extraction (mining, lumber, tourism, agribusiness) at the expense of hundreds of indigenous and peasant rural communities. These interests included the Honduran government and its powerful supporters, as well as U.S., Canadian, Chinese and other foreign interests. The Honduran company Desarollos Energéticos (DESA), with government support, held the contract for the Agua Zarca dam.

The dam builders cleared a dirt road to the construction site through traditional Lenca land without asking Lenca permission. Honduras is bound by national and international laws and treaties, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Labor Organization Convention 169 that prohibit taking or using indigenous lands or resources without “full, prior, and informed consent” of the affected communities. The Lenca claimed they were never consulted about the dam or the road. The company, DESA, also ordered them to stop using the river that had been central to their lives for many generations. In addition to private company security guards, a unit of Honduran military guarded the company’s construction compound, as if to emphasize the government’s interest in completion of the dam.

Beginning in April, 2013 and for more than four months, COPINH and the Lenca continued peaceful protest, sometimes leading processions or protest walks along the road, attracting Hondurans from other areas as well as international observers from the U.S., Europe, and Latin America. During one of these protests a Honduran soldier in the military unit guarding the dam construction compound shot and killed Lenca protester Tomás Garcia and seriously injured his teenage son, Alan.

Blaming the victim or innocent third parties is a common strategy of oppression and control. Authorities accused Cáceres and two other COPINH leaders–Tomás Gómez and Auriliano Molina–of fomenting violence, and claimed to have found a gun in Cåceres’ vehicle. DESA officials accused the three of causing economic damage by delaying the dam’s construction. After a court hearing at which more than one hundred Lenca and others gathered in support of Cáceres, she was ordered to stay away from the area of the dam protests and from any other protest activities. She was later forced into hiding for a time as authorities briefly sought her arrest, and for months before her assassination she continued to receive death threats. She reported at least thirty-three to the authorities, she said, but they did nothing, even though the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (an arm of the Organization of American States) had mandated the Honduran government to extend protective measures to Cáceres and other COPINH activists.

In the days after the murder of Cáceres, Honduran police held and interrogated COPINH leaders Gómez and Molina and Mexican citizen Gustavo Castro, director of Mexico’s Friends of the Earth. Castro was visiting Cáceres when she was killed. He was shot but survived and was given refuge in the Mexican Embassy when Honduran authorities refused to allow him to leave the country. The police later released Gomez and Molina, but only after a hint of suspicion had been planted against them. In response, COPINH’s lawyer Victor Fernandez said, “Blaming people close to Berta is part of the crime. Leaders are murdered to terrorize communities, contaminate organizations, and squash resistance movements. This is the pattern.”

After two months of widespread popular demonstrations and protests in Latin America, the U.S., and Europe, the Honduran judicial prosecutor’s office announced charges against four men in Cåceres’ death. The identity of the four is revealing of the forces arrayed against the Lenca. Government and news sources reported that three of the four were active or retired military officers, and two are or have been DESA personnel. Sergio Rodriguez served as engineer for the Agua Zarca dam. Douglas Bustillo is a retired military officer and former head of security for DESA. Mariano Chavez is an active member of the Honduran military, and Edison Duarte is a former military officer. Before her death, Cáceres reportedly identified at least one of these men among those who had threatened her. In addition to these arrests, there are calls for the investigation and arrest of the intellectual authors of the crime, since many believe the murder was ordered, or at least condoned by higher authorities in Honduras. DESA officials have denied any responsibility.

In Honduras it is rare that prominent or powerful individuals are charged with crimes. A culture of official impunity allows the powerful literally to get away with murder. Impunity is the linchpin of the whole system of control and oppression. Some observers believe that because of the widespread and continuing concern and protests after Cáceres’ murder–concern that also aroused members of the U.S. Congress–the Honduran government was forced to show that it was treating this particular murder seriously and to bring credible charges.

Since the killing of Cáceres, COPINH members have been subjected to ongoing threats and attacks. On July 6, 2016, the body of Lesbia Janeth Uruquía, 49, was found stabbed to death near the municipal dump in Marcala, western Honduras. Like Cáceres, Uruquía was the mother of several children. She was a COPINH member and a leader in the effort to stop construction of a private hydroelectric dam on the Chinacla River. This construction project was headed by Gladys Lopez, president of the ruling National Party and vice-president of the National Congress that had authorized the project. As of this writing, no one had been charged in Uruquía’s murder.

Cáceres saw the conflict over the Agua Zarca and other such projects in the context of the support shown by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the 2009 coup against the government of Manual Zelaya. The coup is widely blamed for ushering in the current era of rampant resource extraction, violence, and repression in Honduras. In Hard Choices, Clinton writes that she advocated swift recognition of the coup and the post-coup government as an exercise in “clear-eyed pragmatism,” even as most of the hemisphere’s governments withheld recognition and demanded the restoration of the elected Zelaya government.

There is a history behind this. In the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration sent the Honduran government a blueprint for economic development (popularly known as Reaganomics for Honduras) that emphasized turning Honduras into a country wide open to foreign investment and resource extraction. Honduran government plans almost exactly mirrored this, until the Zelaya government seemed to deviate from the plan by listening to the voices of the country’s rural, peasant, and Indigenous people. The 2009 coup ended that challenge by removing Zelaya. It appeared that rhetoric about democracy and human rights clashed with the model of economic development the U.S. needed in Honduras.

Both the Agua Zarca project and the Chinacla River project are part of the larger national development plan that includes as an integral component the construction of hydroelectric dams across many of the country’s major rivers, including the Patuca (one of the largest Honduran rivers) that runs through the lands of at least three Indigenous peoples—Miskito, Pech, and Tawahka—in eastern Honduras. The electricity to be generated by these dams is intended, at least in part, to serve the needs of major mining operations in various parts of Honduras—mining projects (Honduran and foreign) that displace Indigenous and peasant communities without ever seeking their “free, prior, and informed consent.” Since the 2009 coup against Zelaya, the post-coup governments have granted a flurry of such mining concessions to U.S., Canadian, Chinese, and other foreign interests.

Murder and community displacement are two costs of such “development” projects. Another is the inequitable appropriation and use of essential resources that local communities need. Geology and hydrology experts estimate that a medium-sized mining project such as some of those proposed for Honduras can consume as much water in a few hours as a rural Honduran family would consume in a year.

Many Hondurans have long criticized this model of development. In 1980, Honduran Central Bank economist Edmundo Valladares referred to “the misery financing the model of development.” By contrast, World Bank president Jim Kim recently (April 2016) responded to the murder of Berta Cáceres in an address at Union Theological Seminary by expressing regret at her murder, then adding, “You cannot do the kind of work we are trying to do and not have some of these incidents happen. We just have to be honest when it happens, admit it, and then try to face it as best we can.” Was he implying that the killings of Indigenous and other leaders were an acceptable price for constructing the model of development? The World Bank has denied any involvement in the Agua Zarca dam project.

With its charismatic director eliminated and ongoing threats to those that remain, COPINH relies more than ever on the support of the international community. Lenca often express gratitude for the interest and support of foreign individuals and the global community. Observers from the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe have been present at Lenca and COPINH events. Recently, however, several international observers were public denounced by government officials and in media with questions such as, “Why is this foreigner present at a COPINH event?” In at least one case, an Italian human rights observer was deported after a campaign to discredit her.

At the same time, Honduran authorities have taken much uncharacteristic and seeming friendly interest in COPINH. Critics call this “mobbing,” a tactic of killing with kindness. The new attention is designed to confuse and co-opt COPINH’s remaining leaders and the Lenca people. But as human rights activist Ismael Moreno, SJ (Padre Melo) said several years ago after a long protest walk led by COPINH and the Garifuna organization OFRANEH, “The Indigenous peoples were highly disciplined and resistant…They were the most firm on the journey. They have resources that the rest do not have: their long history of resistance.”

Foreigners can help the Lenca and other Indigenous people of Honduras by becoming aware of the corporate and government interests and investments that their own countries have in Honduras. This extends also to foreign development and security aid and the conditions and accountability in which this aid is used. Some members of the U.S. Congress are beginning to demand this of their own government.

James Phillips, Ph.d., is a cultural anthropologist at Southern Oregon University. His book, Honduras in Dangerous Times: Resistance and Resilience, was published by Lexington Books in 2015

THIS WILL NOT STOP
Another Political Assassination in Honduras; Continued Silence from Most U.S. and Canadian Politicians, Media, Companies and Investors

By Grahame Russell, Rights Action, July 7, 2016

http://us9.campaign-archive1.com/?u=ea011209a243050dfb66dff59&id=7a3d18454c

Assassinated: Lesbia Janeth Urquia Urquia, 49 years old, mother of two daughters and one son.

On July 6, 2016, the body of Lesbia Janeth Urquía Urquía was found stabbed to death, dumped at a place called “Mata Mulas” (Kills Mules) by the Marcala municipal dump, in the western department of la Paz.

Body of Yaneth found near a garbage dump with severe wounds to her head

Lesbia was, since the 2009 U.S. and Canadian backed military coup, a member of COPINH (Consejo de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas).  COPINH writes:“This assassination occurred 4 months and 4 days after the assassination of our leader and companera Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores, and confirms again the plan to erradicate those of us who defend Mother Earth and our common goods.”

Lesbia was at the forefront of a community struggle to oppose the illegal imposition of a privatized hydro-electric dam project along the Chinacla river in Marcalas, La Paz.

This project is headed up by Gladys Aurora Lopez (president of the governing National Party; vice president of the National Congress) and was “authorized” by the very same National Congress without free, prior and informed consent from the affected communities.

Lesbia was at the forefront of community efforts to carry out a public, legally binding community consultation … when she was assassinated and her body dumped in a place for all to see, a message to anyone involved in efforts to oppose this project of the vice president of the National Congress and president of the National Party.

Since the 2009 military coup, hundreds of Hondurans have been assassinated for political reasons.

This will not stop.

Until the international supporters of the corrupted, repressive Honduran regime stop doing business as usual with the economic-political-military elites, benefitting from repression, corruption and impunity, this will not stop.

Until the U.S. government suspends all military “aid” and economic relations with the regime, this will not stop.  Until the Canadian government rescinds the “free trade agreement” it improperly (illegally?) signed with the military backed regime and corrupted congress of Honduras, this will not stop.

Until there are proper media and political investigations into how the U.S. and Canadian governments supported and legitimized the June 28, 2009, military coup and post-coup regimes in Honduras, this will not stop.

State repression and killings are not accidental in Honduras; this how the elites do business with their international business and political partners.

Courageous groups across Honduras, along with Rights Action and many groups across the U.S. and Canada, will not stop documenting and denouncing the endemic killings and repression, corruption and impunity, and the direct complicity of the U.S. and Canadian governments and companies, as well as the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and other global investors and companies.

USAID Funds Honduran Company Implicated in Berta Caceres Murder

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/USAID-Funds-Honduran-Company-Implicated-in-Berta-Caceres-Murder-20160529-0019.html

Activists demand justice for Berta Caceres in front of a police line in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 17, 2016.

Two of the five suspects arrested in connection with Berta Caceres’ murder are linked to DESA, the company behind the dam project she fought to stop.

Washington’s complicity in human rights abuses and repression of social movements in Honduras has come to the fore once again as an investigation published in Counterpunch revealed that the private Honduran energy company that murdered Indigenous activist Berta Caceres long resisted has signed a funding deal with a USAID partner just months before her high-profile assassination.

The company behind the controversial Agua Zarca hydroelectric project on Lenca land, Desarrollos Energeticos S.A., better known as DESA, signed a contract with USAID partner Fintrac in December 2015, less than three months before Caceres was murdered in her home on March 3.According to Central America-based freelance journalist Gloria Jimenez, the funds were destined for a USAID agricultural assistance program in Western Honduras.

But Caceres’ Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Movements of Honduras, or COPINH, which has long fought against DESA’s Agua Zarca dam for its threats to the sacred Gualcarque River and lack of consent from local communities, has argued that despite the corporation’s promises, DESA takes much more than it gives back.

The Fintrac-DESA agreement was signed by Sergio Rodriguez, a DESA employee and suspect arrested in connection with Caceres’ murder along with four others.

In a statement released after the arrests, DESA confirmed that Rodriguez worked for the company as the manager of its social and environmental issues division. DESA did not confirm any relation to suspect Douglas Bustillo, who elsewhere has been identified as the firm’s head of security.

In a recent email to teleSUR, DESA declined an interview, saying it cannot comment on cases under investigation in Honduran courts.

“Additionally, our company operates completely in line with the law and the strictest business values,” the email added.

Caceres’ family members have claimed that DESA and the Honduran government are ultimately responsible for the Indigenous leader’s murder.

RELATED:
US Activists: ‘USAID Stop Funding Murder in Honduras’

In the months leading up to her murder, Caceres denounced dozens of death threats, incidents of harassment, and threats of sexual violence, allegedly at the hands of state and private agents.

Over two years ago, DESA sought charges against Caceres and two fellow COPINH leaders for land usurpation, coercion, and damages and painted the activists as violent “anarchists.” COPINH members and human rights defenders interpret the case as one part of a larger campaign by DESA to criminalize COPINH and eliminate opposition to the Agua Zarca project.

COPINH and Caceres’ family members continue to call for an independent expert investigation into the murder in the name of identifying those who ordered the killing, not just those who pulled the trigger. They also demand the permanent cancellation of Agua Zarca.

An international day of action on June 15 at Honduran embassies around the world is planned to echo COPINH’s demands at the global level.

International human rights defenders have repeatedly called on the United States to stop funding repression in Honduras through backing of controversial corporate projects and government funding for corrupt Honduran security forces.

A public declaration by a group of intellectuals and community leaders was released two days ago. It can be read in Spanish at http://tiempo.hn/manifiesto-pais-ataud-silencio-velorio/   I have translated this so that it can be read and shared by English speaking readers. 

Country as Coffin, Country in Silence, Country in Eternal Wake

Four months after the assassination of the unbroken Berta Cáceres comes the need to share our concerns.  The first is that with the institutional deterioration in Honduras that has sunk to such profound depths,  the ability of independent forces to struggle, or to attempt to struggle, against the crude arrogance of the system is also progressively weakened.Berta Cáceres 83 - Berta Flores, Berta Cáceres y Olivia Zúniga.

Tolerance, considered to be the cornerstone of European civilization since the Age of Enlightenment, has yet to illuminate the land of Honduras. Any form of dissidence here brings with it an element of risk, all digression is suspicious and subversive, and disagreements quickly turn into enmity, because in Honduras to disagree with a concept, a thesis or a theory becomes a personal offense.

And personal offense is for these “fathers” of the nation, and its governors, rulers and warlords, a personal attack. Discussion, arguments, critique and controversial debate have ceased to be in the republic instruments of participation and the search for consensus, or methods to search out the truth. These have been transformed into the vulgar bipartisanship of malice and resentment.

 

So much so that good oratory, that spectacular and political art that no intellectual or aspiring leader could ignore because it contains the magic of the “word”, has come to disappear. The discursive mediocrities to which Hondurans are subjected to daily are crude, vain, overwhelming and gross that seem to ooze as edicts deficient in the gift of speech by these “honorable” rustics of bipartisan politics.

 

It will remain for scientists to investigate the inescapable relationship between the loss of a social principle -the respect for life- and increased local criminality. After the time when the militaristic State established the suppression of persons in opposition before and during the 1980’s, and after that the national political class also proved that you can loot the nation without ending up in jail, every transgression was validated. But there is another criminal level which we live today, and that is the barefacedness and impunity. It is not enough to steal with premeditation, but it is costumed with grandiose and hypocritical theatrical effrontery. If there is a histrionic exercise that prevails in present day Honduras, it is cynicism.

In the same way it has happened in the Honduran tradition with the assassination of public figures. If during the dictatorial rule uniformed officials and regional chieftains sought to hide their deeds, dumping cadavers into the Ulúa, the murder of labor and peasant leaders is easier today with the complicity of the state. Killing only requires the darkness of night as there are no policies to discourage this crime. Police are tainted and never sanctioned, at times murdering their own leaders, while the senior administration of the justice system lapses into an unforgivable slumber of indifference. It is not enough that in this country of permanent mourning  where the cities regularly sprout bodies with slit throats, and where repeated massacres and criminal carnage has come to such a state that forensic authorities have resorted to using plastic garbage bags to cart off the corpses. The worst metaphor of abandonment has become reality here: in Honduras human life and the dignity of the person, even of the deceased, belongs in the garbage dump of the social factory as dictated by the creed of neoliberalism.

The country thus has been transformed from agricultural and semi-industrial to one that offers the most dismal of opportunities: private security firms, emergency medical facilities, ambulance services, the mortuary and casket industry, overwhelmed forensic technicians, grave diggers and cemetery workers. “Luminol” is the hottest market product in Honduras as it is a chemical that helps detect trace amounts of blood at crime scenes.

Meanwhile as society is squeezed and its resources depleted in some illogical attempt to control the violence, some elements of the same military apparatus inject an average of three thousand hand guns or rifles into this market of instability.  The contradiction – or the ideological bubble, the farce or the great lie – has never been more obvious than in these two and a half years in which ” something has change” and when we “live better”, although nobody knows how , where, when and with what.

Human Targets

Berta Cáceres was assassinated by a colonial political system and an industrial extractivist model, always in force as the ultimate whip of the powerful to eradicate dissent. When it is insufficient to discredit and slander, to make unfounded accusations, to threaten, and to intimidate and harass with surveillance, they then proceed to murder the source of the ideal, the brain of the resistance.

It is arguable that this has always been the struggle of the Central American nation: the inevitable historical confrontation between those who aspire to the collective benefit in the use of natural resources, and those who would appropriate for themselves or for their national and transnational companies these same resources. This is the dialectical clash between those who would expect from the State a more humanist defense as different from a mercantile consideration machined to objectify the individual. That is what is happening today.Chinchonero

But it is a futile strategy. The assassination of these well-known leaders instead feeds the rancorous and untamed memory of the people and creates martyrs impossible to forget. Some 480 years ago Lempira was betrayed or killed in combat, it matters not how, and his presence remains immeasurable among the indigenous and Ladino peoples and modernity; the holocaust of the Morazán struggle still dominates the history of the Isthmus and cries sleeplessly for this unfinished project of unification; the ghost of Cinchonero populates the forests of Olancho rifle in hand; Guadalupe Carney continues to pour out love and demands justice from the pages of the collective consciousness and particularly from the godforsaken and exploited peasantry; Jeanette Kawas, Carlos Luna and Carlos Escalera were ahead of their time with an environmental proposal that is so very just that it can never die.

The martyrs will return, becoming the unstoppable constructive seed of new generations.  Berta is a living memory for the ancestral resistance of the indigenous communities and in her are summarized the historical struggles of a people moving towards their liberty. Berta lives in the spirit of a moral rebellion, a desire for social change, and the demand for democracy and equality.  Her memory is not therefore of pain but of inspiration to be insubordinate and to fight for the solvency of history, for organized coordination and dignity.

 

Country of the Indignant      July 3, 2016

 

ISMAEL MORENO, sj 

DARÍO EURAQUE

RODOLFO PASTOR FASQUELLE 

VÍCTOR MEZA

EDUARDO BÄHR

PATRICIA MURILLO

WILFREDO MÉNDEZ

HUGO NOÉ PINO

HELEN UMAÑA

EFRAÍN DÍAZ ARRIVILLAGA

MAURICIO TORRES MOLINERO

RAMÓN ENRIQUE BARRIOS

LETICIA SALOMÓN 

MARVIN BARAHONA

JULIO ESCOTO

Honduras: New attacks against human rights defenders

Thursday, April 21, 2016 – 12:36

Members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and other national and international organizations were attacked by unidentified armed people in the context of an international meeting celebrating the life of murdered human rights defender and leader of COPINH, Berta Cáceres.

On 15 April, a group of around 30 people, armed with machetes and stones, verbally and physically attacked members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras, COPINH), as well as members of other international and Honduran NGOs. The members of COPINH and other organizations were gathered for the international meeting “Berta Cáceres Vive” celebrating the defender’s life. At least eight of the meeting’s participants were injured in the attack.

The armed people attacked COPINH members and other meeting participants while they were returning to Tegucigalpa from the Gualcarque River in Intibucá and Santa Bárbara provinces, where a ceremony for Berta Cáceres took place. A witness told Amnesty International that police officers present did not take any action to prevent the attack or to stop it. The police officers finally escorted COPINH members out of the area after international participants convinced them to react. For years, Berta Cáceres and COPINH have vocally campaigned against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam in the Gualcarque River.

This attack is the latest in a series of incidents since Berta Cáceres’ murder targeting her relatives and other members of COPINH. Amnesty International believes that these incidents amount to a campaign of harassment that is endangering COPINH’s members and Berta Cáceres’ relatives’ safety.

 

Please press the authorities

  • to take all appropriate measures to guarantee the safety of COPINH members and Berta Cáceres’ relatives in accordance with their wishes in order to fulfil their obligation to protect them as set by the precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
  • to publicly recognize the legitimate and rightful work done by COPINH and all Human Rights Defenders in the country and to take other effective measures to stop their criminalization.

 

Send your messages to

 

Juan Orlando Hernández
Presidente de la República
Casa Presidencial
Bulevar Juan Pablo II
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Email:             info@presidencia.gob.hn
Twitter:          @JuanOrlando
Salutation:     Dear President / Estimado Señor Presidente

 

Minister of Interior and Justice:
Héctor Leonel Ayala Alvarenga
Ministro del Interior y de Justicia
Edificio de la Hacienda (Principal)
Res. La Hacienda, Calle La Estancia
Bloque A-Lote 8 Edificio Z y M.
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Email:             karlacueva144@gmail.com
Twitter:          @SDHJGDHN
Salutation:     Dear Minister/ Estimado Señor Ministro

 

Please send a copy to

 

Her Excellency Sofía Lastenia Cerrato Rodríguez
Ambassador for Honduras
151 Slater Street, Suite 805
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5H3
Fax:                 (613) 232-0193
E-mail:           ambassador@embassyhonduras.hn
OR  correo@embassyhonduras.ca

 

COPINH
Email:             copinh@copinh.org  

 

Additional information

Members of COPINH and Berta Cáceres’ relatives have been targeted with harassment and attacks since Berta, leader and co-founder of COPINH, was shot dead on 3 March in her home in the town of La Esperanza, in the province of Intibucá, west Honduras.

The Attorney General’s Office called eight of the nine COPINH coordinators to testify about Berta Cáceres’ killing numerous times, in interrogations lasting for 12 or more hours. The authorities detained Aureliano Molina, one of the organization’s leaders, and released him 48 hours later without charges. On 8 March in San Francisco de Lempira, southwest Honduras, four armed men in plain clothes driving two vehicles without plates parked by a community radio station’s premises and took pictures of the people getting in and out. One of the armed men threatened a radio worker at gun point, then grabbed his phone and deleted the pictures he took to record the incident. The same week, community members saw other men driving cars without plates surrounding Aureliano Molina’s house and trying unsuccessfully to break into his home. On 11 March in La Esperanza, midwest Honduras, COPINH members reported seeing unidentified men monitoring the organization’s Casa de Sanación y Justicia (a shelter for women) and the Utopia Centre (a community centre). A car stood in front of the entrance of Utopia Centre late at night for several minutes. On 11 March, police officers took pictures of participants in a public demonstration demanding justice for Berta Cáceres in several cities of Honduras. An armed man in plain clothes followed one of Berta Cáceres’ daughters in a mall in Tegucigalpa, the capital, during the same week. 

COPINH has been fighting for over 20 years for Lenca Indigenous peoples’ rights. COPINH members have been campaigning for their right to free, prior and informed consent in relation to a proposal for a hydroelectric plant that might force them out of their ancestral lands since 2011. Its members continue to be targeted with threats and harassment in connection with their work.

Despite having been the subject of threats and harassment for years in connection to her human right’s work—for which she was granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—the investigation into Berta Cáceres’ death so far has appeared to minimize any link between the crime and her work as a Human Rights Defender.

Information made public by local law enforcement officers initially suggested the murder was the result of a robbery or a “crime of passion.” At the beginning of the investigation officials only called on members of COPINH to give testimony and the Mexican activist Gustavo Castro, who witnessed and was a victim of the crime; Honduran authorities temporarily barred him from leaving the country despite fears for his safety. On 31 March, the Attorney General’s Office informed they inspected Energetic Development (Desarrollos Energéticos S.A., DESA)’s offices, the company that is developing the Agua Zarca Project, and received testimony by its employees. 

On 7 March the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a new precautionary measure of protection in favour of all COPINH members and Berta Cáceres’ family on the grounds of the risks posed by their work defending human rights, environment and natural resources and their increased vulnerability situation after Berta Cáceres’ killing.

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.