by Pambana Bassett
Belize City, Belize – In Honduras, one month since the assassination of Berta Caceres on the 3rd of March, tens of thousands of African and Indigenous Hondurans and those in solidarity have taken to the streets throughout the country with deep sadness and in resistance to the neo-colonial forces at fault for her murder.
Caceres’ organization, the Civic Counsel of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), has called for actions, as Indigenous people from the Tolupanes, Pech, Maya-Chorti, Garifuna, Moskito, Tawakha and Lenca nations, among the other remaining Indigenous peoples, continue in mobilization. They are demanding the Honduras state sign an agreement with the CIDH (the Spanish language acronym for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights), allowing an international and independent team of experts to investigate her murder.
They also demand the demilitarization of all Indigenous territories and the removal of all multinational corporations from their ancestral lands and seas.
The social movement of Honduras has refused to back down. Marches and peaceful protests have continued across the country. The call has been “Berta Vive! La lucha continua!” (“Berta lives! The struggle continues!”) and “Berta no murio, se multiplico!” (“Berta did not die, she multiplied!”).
Leaders of the movement, including the Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda of OFRANEH (the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras), who has led parallel and solidarity organizing for Garifuna land rights along with the Lenca people, calling for an end to the U.S.-sponsored coup regime in Honduras, have continued to march on with the conviction that justice will be achieved through people-led movements.
Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda of OFRANEH (the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras), who has led parallel and solidarity organizing for Garifuna land rights along with the Lenca people, and other leaders calling for an end to the U.S.-sponsored coup regime in Honduras, have continued to march on with the conviction that justice will be achieved through people-led movements.
Within days, the streets of La Esperanza (The Hope, in English), a town in the Intibucá Department, or state, of Honduras, witnessed people from Indigenous and African-descendant communities come out in the thousands to walk alongside Caceres’ family during the funeral. Their communities have also risked and lost lives while fighting against megaprojects like hydroelectric dams, agrobuisness, mining and others.
The multinational corporate interest behind these projects, mostly from the USA, Canada and European nations like Finland, Germany and others, are being held accountable by the masses.
During the funerary procession, the police shamelessly denied some of those closest to Caceres the opportunity to walk with their companera’s body. Those denied are organizers who have been central in building a movement for justice in Honduras, and it is likely for that same reason that they were detained by the heavily militarized Honduran police, relentlessly questioned and denied the right to attend the funeral.
Immediately after Caceres was assassinated, the sole witness and survivor of the attack, Gustavo Castro Soto, a Chiapas-based writer and organizer for social and economic justice, and COPINH’s leadership were targeted by the police investigation, deemed by international organizations and the Caceres family to be rigged. Castro Soto was denied the right to leave the country for nearly a month despite the obvious threat to his life described even by the Mexican Embassy.
Aureliano Molina, a Lenca COPINH organizer who in 2015 traveled throughout Belize visiting African and Indigenous land rights struggles in Peini/Punta Gorda, Yugadan/Hopkins, Dangriga, Harmonyville and Belize City, was detained for two days by the police, exposing their interest in stifling and criminalizing COPINH instead of seeking the truth. The hydroelectric dam, DESA Agua Zarca has seemingly been left untouched by the police, despite the ongoing threats Berta Caceres faced because of their resistance to the dam project and others.
Berta’s family stated: “We hold DESA, the international financial organizations backing the project (the Netherlands Development Finance Co. [or] FMO, Finnfund [the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation], the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, Ficohsa Bank) … responsible for the … constant death threats against Berta, us and COPINH. We hold the Honduran state responsible for obstructing Berta’s protection and for contributing to her persecution, criminalization and murder.”
To date no one individual or corporation has been approached, investigated or charged for the assassination of Caceres, a trend in a country with rampant impunity since the 2009 coup d’état, in which the democratically elected then President Manuel Zelaya was ousted with the support of the U.S. State Department led by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Caceres had often named the involvement of the USA in the 2009 wholly undemocratic coup and denounced their continued multi-million dollar funding of the Honduran security forces.
To date no one individual or corporation has been approached, investigated or charged for the assassination of Caceres, a trend in a country with rampant impunity since the 2009 coup d’état, in which the democratically elected then President Manuel Zelaya was ousted with the support of the U.S. State Department led by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Some representatives of the U.S. Congress are calling for Honduras military aid to be cut off in response to dangerously increasing murders and impunity.
The 2009 coup resulted in a business bonanza in which multinationals from the U.S. and Canada received concessions and began projects in violation of the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169, which calls for the prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples, and in violation of their ancestral right to control their territories.
Here in Belize, a number of Indigenous, African, human rights, media, environmentalist and labor organizations and individuals signed a letter echoing some of the COPINH’s demands. The petition calls on governments to sign all international convenants and conventions, for a moratorium on funding projects in violation of Convention 169 of the ILO and for an independent investigation led by the Inter American Court of Human Rights (IACHR).
Organizational signatories included the Association of the Protected Areas Management Organizations (APAMO), Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO), Belize Organization in Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution (Bel-Ven), Christian Workers’ Union (CWU), Liyawada Cerro (Reawakening Vision of Cerro), Mayan Institute, Maya Leaders Alliance and the Ya’axche Conservation Trust.
Within two weeks of Caceres’ assassination, Nelson Garcia of COPINH’s membership was assassinated; he was shot in the face outside his mother in law’s home after leaving a violent government-led eviction of the community of Rio Chiquito. Other COPINH members and those of other organizations such as La Via Campesina and United Movement of the Peasants of the Aguan have received threats or violent attacks.
This is nothing new: Since the coup, reports of hundreds of assassinations of Indigenous, African, union members, leaders, environmentalists, feminists and other members of the social movement have gone unsolved by the state. The Caceres family and the people of Honduras, however, are clear about who is at fault for the threats and murders and continue to march in protest.
Since the coup, reports of hundreds of assassinations of Indigenous, African, union members, leaders, environmentalists, feminists and other members of the social movement have gone unsolved by the state. The Caceres family and the people of Honduras, however, are clear about who is at fault for the threats and murders and continue to march in protest.
Just days ago, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) tweeted saying they would support an investigation through MAACIH, a self-described anti-corruption entity, even after the family of Caceres emphasized that they did not want any other investigation than that led by IAHCR. The role of the OAS in Honduras has come into question before and does so again.
Despite the OAS removal of Honduras because of the 2009 coup, in 2011 they returned to accept the country’s participation despite human rights activists’ continual reports that the 2009 coup regime remained in power. As Amandala has reported, 2011 is the same year that the U.S. Embassy sponsored a San Pedro Sula conference entitled “Honduras Open for Business,” leaving many to wonder if the OAS interests are truly democratic.
This is a concern constantly raised in Belize, where the OAS is the main mediating body between the Belize and Guatemalan states despite the business partnerships between the Guatemalan elite and U.S. multinational interests.
The assassination of Berta Caceres and Nelson Garcia of COPINH and the process since has exposed the very real failures of the Honduran state to seek justice and protect social and environmental well-being; failures which have alarmingly increased since the 2009 coup in our neighboring country.
Pambana Bassett, a native of Harare, Zimbabwe, who has also lived in New York, writes for Amadala, the leading newspaper in Belize, where this story was published in the Sunday, April 10, 2016, edition; this version is slightly edited by the author. She can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.