When Berta Caceres Flores, the General Coordinator of the Indigenous Lenca organization COPINH and a national social movement leader in Honduras, was assassinated on March 2, she was in the midst of an intense struggle in defense of the Gualcarque River. She and the Lenca people of Rio Blanco had already blocked the Agua Zarca Dam from being built on the Gualcarque River once, in 2014, when Berta was detained by the military and later ordered to jail by the Honduran government. Several months ago, DESA, the dam company, began a second attempt at construction of the dam and as Berta and other COPINH members organized they faced increasing repression and death threats.
Shots were fired at Berta as she drove her vehicle in the area of the dam, employees of the mayor's office threatened her during a protest, saying that Berta was one “who had to be killed” and that Berta would never come back there. A hitman working for the dam company with a history of murder told community members that he was going to murder 10 people who opposed the dam, including Berta. Berta and other COPINH members were pursued by armed men and she received constant death threats. (Read more about the threats that Berta faced here). Yet Berta refused to be silent – not only in her opposition to the Agua Zarca Dam but in her clear denunciation of the US-backed repressive Honduran regime and its selling off of Honduras' resources for plundering by corporations. She spoke out forcefully against the US-funded militarization and repression by the Honduran state that was used to force mega-projects, dams, privatization, and mines upon communities who stood up to defend their territory.
And then Berta was assassinated.
The powers at be that orchestrated Berta's assassination are not content with only killing Berta, but now COPINH and Berta's family denounce that the investigation into Berta's death is being manipulated. The Honduran government denied the family's request for an independent forensics expert to be present at the autopsy and they have put the life of the only witness to Berta's assassination, Gustavo Castro Soto, in danger. Despite Gustavo cooperating with the investigation and giving extensive testimony, the Honduran government has refused to let him return to his home in Mexico, insisting he remain in the town where the murder occurred and where he is now well-known and could be killed. As if that wasn't enough, his lawyer has been suspended. Click here to take action to demand that the Honduran authorities allow Gustavo Castro to go home.
COPINH and Berta's family have exposed that the Honduran authorities are trying to avoid responsibility for the murder by falsely focusing the investigation on Berta's fellow COPINH activists rather than on the powerful interests responsible for the constant death threats and repression that Berta faced. As COPINH stated:
“It is clear that the Honduran state—the very state that sought to criminalize Berta Cáceres, the very state that gave an order for her arrest, and the very state that persecuted her, that threatened her, and which has responsibility for her death — cannot be in charge of investigating itself. The state that persecuted Berta Cáceres for confronting the country’s economic and political elites clearly intends to manipulate the investigation in order to continue criminalizing and defaming her.”
COPINH and Berta's family have called on the Honduran government to sign an agreement with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission for the creation of an independent, impartial group of experts to investigate the murder. Additionally, they have called for the definitive cancellation of the Agua Zarca Dam. COPINH has also called for an end to US military and security aid to Honduras, something Berta demanded during her life. It is especially troubling to note the presence of the US financed and trained special TIGRES unit in the area of the Agua Zarca Dam to intimidate the local population. The TIGRES are funded and trained by the US to supposedly address drug trafficking, but they are clearly being used to promote corporate interests and to intimidate community resistance. COPINH has additionally called on USAID to end its relationship with the dam company DESA, as USAID projects are used to reward communities that support the dam.
Click here to call on your representative to sign a Congressional letter supporting COPINH's demands and ask Congress to end US military aid to Honduras and ensure the TIGRES are removed from the Agua Zarca Dam area.
To learn more about Berta and COPINH's struggle and how we can act in solidarity, join this webinar on Wendesday evening.
Berta was a voice for self-determination not only for the Lenca people but for all Hondurans. She was a very outspoken leader against the 2009 military coup and the resulting repressive regimes. She led COPINH in supporting numerous Lenca communities struggling against displacement, dams, privatization of their resources, and mega-projects. She was a national leader in the struggle against the ultra-neoliberal plan being imposed on Honduras, which entails the privatization and exploitation of almost everything possible, and the brutal repression against those who resist. Berta spoke out against the US Alliance for Prosperity plan being put in place in Central America, clearly explaining that its militarization and economic privatization and exploitation projects will only bring more destruction and death to Honduras. She loudly criticized the current regime for its repression, and refused to be silent. No matter how many death threats she received, no matter how many times she was followed, pursued, or threatened, Berta would not be silenced.
And she must not be silenced today. Berta's voice must continue to be heard.
P.S. Due to the tragic events, we have not yet sent the files for the Spring 2016 issue of Presente to our union printer. Presente will include the latest information concerning the investigation into Berta's murder. The printing is going to take place next week, and bulk order boxes will be shipped out directly from the printer. If you haven't ordered copies yet, you can still do so here: http://SOAW.org/
Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights