Archive for the ‘Environmentalist in Honduras’ Category

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.

Why is Honduras the world’s deadliest country for environmentalists?

The environment is the new battleground for human rights, and activists are getting caught in the crossfire – particularly in Honduras, where two were killed last month

Thursday 7 April 2016 14.12 BST Last modified on Tuesday 12 April 2016Since her mother’s murder a month ago, Bertha Isabel Zuniga Cáceres has scarcely had time to grieve. The 25-year-old student is adamant that her mother, Berta Cáceres Flores, will not become just one more Honduran environmental activist whose work was cut short by their assassination.

“Development in Honduras cannot continue happen at the expense of indigenous peoples and human rights,” says Zuñiga Cáceres, who met today with members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and Honduran officials in Washington DC to call for an independent investigation into her mother’s killing. She also requested greater protection for her family and members of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, the human rights group her mother co-founded.

A growing chorus of voices, from civil society groups to members of the US Congress, have reiterated the need for reform in Honduras in the month since Cáceres was shot dead by assassins in her home. Cáceres, founder of the nonprofit watchdog group National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh), died less than a week after opposing a major new hydroelectric project. Her death was followed two weeks later by that of her colleague Nelson García. While a suspect has been identified in García’s death, local activists are accusing the government of a cover-up.

A well known leader from the Lenca indigenous community, Cáceres received international recognition – and threats – for her efforts to halt the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the sacred Gualcarque River. Last year, she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her work to uphold indigenous rights.

A deadly place for environmentalists

Honduras now has the highest murder rate for environmental activists in the world, and conflict over land rights is the primary driver. Rampant inequality, a weak judicial system, cozy relationships between political and business elites and near total impunity for crimes against human rights defenders have contributed to 101 murders of environmental activists between 2010 and 2014, according to the British NGO Global Witness.

It’s an upward trend: there were three times as many killings in 2012 as a decade earlier, and 2015 is likely to be the deadliest year on record for environmental defenders in Honduras, according to Billy Kyte, author of a 2015 report by Global Witness spotlighting the dangers faced by activists.

“The environment is the new battleground for human rights, and disputes over land form the backdrop to almost all the killings,” says Kyte.

The Global North’s “rapacious demand” for natural resources is fueling conflict on indigenous lands throughout the developing world, says Kyte. But in Honduras, corruption, organized crime, political instability and increasingly militarized policing have created a particularly acute crisis.

Since the 2009 coup that ousted democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya, the right wing Honduran government has aggressively promoted investment and development in mining, agri-business and large scale energy infrastructure projects. It has privatized land and water resources and removed barriers to large scale development projects, often at the expense of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities and small scale campesino farmers.

In large part to meet the mining industry’s enormous demand for energy, the government has granted dozens of hydroelectric dam concessions. Global Witness found that the developers often disregard the land rights of indigenous communities, which become targets of threats and violence. Powerful drug trafficking gangs are also known to use mining and agri-business projects for money laundering.

Honduras is a signatory to the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, which requires the free, prior consultation and consent of indigenous communities for projects that impact their traditional territories. But the country has a poor track record when it comes to upholding those rights, according to George Redman, Honduras country director for Oxfam.

It’s not uncommon, says Redman, for communities to first learn about a concession when the company shows up on their land to break ground. In recent years, the Honduran government has fast-tracked approvals for large projects, overlooking legal violations of indigenous rights.

That’s just what happened to the indigenous Lenca community of Río Blanco a decade ago when developers arrived unannounced one day to break ground on a massive dam project called Agua Zarca, a joint venture between the internationally-financed Honduran company Desarrollos Energeticos SA and China’s state-owned Sinohydro.

The Agua Zarca project had been approved despite the fact that it violated international treaties on the rights of indigenous peoples. Fearing for their sacred river, their land rights and their safety, Río Blanco appealed to Cáceres for help, who was subsequently recognized for her work to fight the project.

Agua Zarca has become emblematic of the Honduran government’s failure to address corruption, law enforcement abuses and land grabs.

“You have on the one hand poor indigenous communities up against some of the richest and most powerful people in the country who are also enjoying a degree of protection from Honduran security forces,” says Redman. “So it’s a very, very uneven playing field.”

Companies have been known to forge signatures on consent documents and engage private security contractors and government security forces to subdue protesters. Hours from the nearest cities and often lacking telephones and electricity, indigenous communities are often powerless to fight back.

Recent investigations have estimated that the vast majority of attacks and killings of human rights defenders in Honduras go unsolved.

“People involved in this kind of protection work, they always say, ‘We feel so vulnerable, at any minute we could just be murdered because of this culture of impunity,’” says Redman. “And the powers behind these kinds of investments are so strong”.

A call for reform

Since the killing of Berta Cáceres and Nelson García, international pressure has increased for the Honduran government to take stronger, more decisive action to strengthen protections for activists and uphold indigenous rights.

The very fact that someone of Berta Cáceres’s stature was killed indicates the grave risk faced by other Honduran activists who don’t have that recognition, says Adriana Beltrán, senior associate for citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America, a DC-based human rights advocacy organization.

“To have someone like Berta and Nelson García assassinated shows the fragility in Honduras,” says Beltrán. “It’s a test not only of capacity but the will of the Honduran government and authorities to investigate these types of attacks and killings against environmental and other human rights defenders.”

Speaking on the floor of the US Senate last month, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) called on the Honduran government to cancel the Agua Zarca concession. He criticized the administration of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández for failing to deliver on a promise made to defend human rights while lobbying last year for a significant share of the $750m in US aid allocated for regional security.

Two weeks after the Cáceres assassination, 62 members of Congress sent a letter to US secretary of state John Kerry and secretary of the treasury Jacob Lew urging them to press the Honduran government to grant an independent international investigation into her death, fund a system of protection for activists and permanently stop the Agua Zarca project.

The letter also urged a review of US security assistance, including aid allocated for training of Honduran security forces. It furthermore called for a review of US-backed loans for Honduran development projects from institutions like the World Bank, InterAmerican Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

On 25 March, 11 US senators led by Senator Ben Cardin sent a letter to Kerry reiterating support for the participation of the IACHR in the investigation of Cáceres’ death. The letter requested that USAid funding be provided to support a program, approved by the Honduran Congress last year, to protect human rights defenders, trade unionists and journalists.

A long road ahead

The family of Cáceres says the response from the US State Department in particular has so far been insufficient to call Honduras to account for the entrenched corruption.

“We’re trying to get people to understand that these are oligarchs who put their friends in strategic places to control the message,” says Silvio Carrillo, a nephew of Berta Cáceres, who traveled to Washington this week.

“We want [the US State Department] to say that they are not confident in the Honduran government – they have no track record and it’s clear that they are not going to produce the proper investigation,” he says.

There’s also a need for companies doing business in Honduras to show greater responsibility for community rights, says Marcia Aguiluz, program director for Central America and Mexico at the Center for Justice and International Law, which accompanied the Cáceres family before the IACHR this week.

“It’s not enough to find out who killed Berta,” says Aguiluz. “I would say it’s important for the international community to understand the conflicts going on in Honduras.”

Following García’s murder on 16 March, the Dutch development bank FMP, which had provided financing for Agua Zarca, announced an immediate suspension of all operations in Honduras. The company said it would send a delegation to communities affected by the project and promised a thorough investigation of all its projects in Honduras. A second major investor, Finnfund, quickly followed suit.

“There is still a [corporate] culture of ‘why do we have to take into account the rights or concern of poor rural communities?’” says Redman. “There’s a discourse that says: this is good for the development of the company, so if you have to stop on a few toes, that’s too bad.”