Berta Cáceres: Murdered for activism in Honduras, Energy Company Under Investigation

We’re dealing with an environmental activist murder ‘epidemic’, U.N. warns by Alexandra Gerea, March 25, 2016, zmescience

The killing of indigenous activists is reaching epidemic levels, the UN warns. The organization urges governments to ensure proper protection for environmentalists, especially in vulnerable areas like Central and South America.

… Ultimately, activism strives to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, or environmental change, or stasis with the desire to make improvements in society and to correct social injustice. However, for all the positive changes they try to bring, it doesn’t seem like activists are appreciated in most parts of the world. If anything, it seems like some groups of interests want to get rid of them – one way or another.
 

Prize-winning campaigner Berta Caceres was slain by gunmen earlier this month weeks after opposing a hydroelectric dam in the dangerous central American state. This week, another member of her organization, Nelson Garcia, was killed by security forces during an eviction of an indigenous community. An indigenous leader of the Shuar people who was openly opposing a major mining project in Ecuador has been found bound and buried, just days before an environmental protest he was organizing in Peru’s capital, Lima. These are not isolated events. 908 activists were officially assassinated in the world in the past decade, according to a study and the UN warns that the activist killings are spreading like an epidemic.

“The pattern of killings in many countries is becoming an epidemic definitely,” Tauli-Corpuz told Climate Home by phone from Brazil where she is investigating violence faced by Amazonian tribes.

Things seem to be getting worse in recent years. At least 116 environmental defenders were killed in 2014, according to NGO Global Witness, forty percent of whom were indigenous. These are people who are bringing positive changes in their community, they are trying to prevent corporate and governmental abuse — and they are being killed for this. The situation in South America (especially in Brazil) is dire. The UN cited evictions in food-growing region Mato Grosso du Sol by multinationals like French commodities giant Louis Dreyfus, and the controversial Belo Monte hydro project in Para. Bribes are almost ubiquitous and law enforcement is non-existent. The UN calls on governments to protect the activists but unfortunately, I fear this won’t be the case. Being an activist is a dangerous thing, no matter where you are in the world. [Emphasis added]

WATCH: Before Her Assassination, Berta Cáceres Singled Out Hillary Clinton for Backing Honduran Coup by Democracy Now, March 11, 2016

Energy Company Under Investigation In Death Of Honduran Environmental Activist The killing appeared to be targeted: A Mexican rights activist at the house was only slightly wounded in the attack, but Caceres’s body had four bullet wounds. Police said they had detained a suspect, but did not identify the person by Telesurtv, March 7, 2016

One of the daughters of Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres, an Indigenous leader who was killed earlier this week, said one of the hydroelectric companies her mother had been protesting is behind her death.

“This is a political crime. We’ve said it and we vehemently deny that this was a crime of passion,” Olivia Zuniga Caceres told Radio HRN Saturday.

According to Zuniga Caceres, the company DESA-SINOHYDRO, a Honduran-Chinese joint venture that has been planning to build a hydroelectric dam in the country, is to blame for the activist’s death.

DESA-SINOHYDRO aims to develop the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project in Rio Blanco, a community in the western province of Intibuca. Caceres had long been protesting the dam and blocking its development, and received numerous threats from the company.

“We hold that company and the Agua Zarca project responsible … because she (Berta Caceres) always denounced systematic threats by that company,” Berta’s daughter said.

Caceres was shot dead in her home in the early hours of Thursday morning.

While Honduran authorities claim they are investigating the murder, police reports initially labeled the attack an armed robbery despite repeated threats and the fact that her fellow leader Tomas Garcia was killed at the hands of the Honduran military in 2013.

Referring to the investigation of her mother’s killing, Zuniga Caceres said she was aware that “there are several people detained, but there are no answers, there are no masterminds or perpetrators that tell us with any certainty who is responsible for the crime.”

Zuniga Caceres also added that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez was “a participant, accomplice and culprit in this political crime,” adding that her family plans to sue the Honduran government for the killing. They will also call on international investigators to be involved in the probe.

“President Juan Orlando Hernandez, let me tell you: They killed Berta Caceres, but your government is dying,” said Zuniga Caceres. [Emphasis added]

Murdered for Activism in Honduras by Silvio Carrillo, March 11, 2016, New York Times

Oakland, Calif. — It was always a relief to see my aunt Berta, whom we affectionately called Bertita. Not just because of the constant threats to her life, but because she was a “rayo de luna” — a ray of moonlight — in any situation.

On March 3, shortly after midnight, unidentified gunmen stormed into the house where she was staying in La Esperanza, Honduras, and killed her. Berta Cáceres was a human rights and environmental activist who was playing a leading role in opposing a dam project that would force an indigenous community to abandon its ancestral homes and their livelihoods.

She was just one more victim in the continuing war against activists in Honduras.

The London-based human rights organization Global Witness has reported that at least 109 environmental activists were killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2015. Scores of journalists, human rights defenders, union leaders, L.G.B.T. rights activists, legal professionals and political activists have also been murdered over the last few years. A vast majority of these killings remain unsolved.

For a decade, Bertita and the organization she co-founded, the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, had been fighting against construction of the Agua Zarca Dam across the Gualcarque River. It sits on land considered sacred by the Lenca, an indigenous people, to which Bertita belonged through her father. The Lenca said the project, for which the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. received a concession and which has been financed by the Dutch development bank FMO, has proceeded even though the Lenca were not consulted, as required by international law.

Rather than provide protection to council members, the Honduran security forces and judicial authorities have been part and parcel of the campaign of attacks and intimidation against the organization. Since 2013, according to Global Witness, three other members of the group have been killed, including one shot by a soldier as he peacefully protested the project. Bertita received frequent death threats, was detained by the police and faced trumped-up charges in court.

The attacks and threats only strengthened her resolve.

But Bertita was also a daughter, sister, aunt, mother and grandmother — she leaves behind four adult children and a grandson. As her children grew, she found it necessary to send three of them abroad for their secondary and college educations, so they could feel safe from the threats she faced.

During my frequent visits as a child to Honduras and our large extended family, Bertita and I — she was only two years my elder — would chase each other and our cousins around the garden playing hide-and-seek, or play soccer in the dirt patches, always being careful not to crush my grandmother’s red roses.

In July 2009, I went to Honduras as a producer for an international news network. It was the day after a coup by the Honduran military, business elites and right-wing political opposition removed the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya, from office. Army troops whisked him away to Costa Rica in his pajamas.

Bertita had been working with indigenous groups on education and rights issues with Mr. Zelaya’s support. She was already well known throughout the countryside and by international rights organizations in the region. Her opposition to the coup catapulted her into global recognition.

On our first night in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, I decided to profile her, but she warned me: “We need to go to a safe house. Come with us and we’ll talk there.” We set out in a taxi. One of her cellphones rang. After a quick conversation with another organizer, she said, “We need to switch taxis and someone will pick us up.”

This had become her life in Honduras; there were no roses to worry about now.

At our destination, we ducked between houses and walked down a corridor to the back of one. We were welcomed by “compañeros en la lucha” — companions in the struggle. They cooked us a meal while we sat down and began filming.

Over the next few days I saw Bertita at rallies and leading protest marches. She spoke with vigor, clarity and force. She didn’t mince words. It was a side of her I had not seen.

“La lucha” was in Bertita’s blood. There was no other calling for her. We would never have tried to stop her because we all believed in what she was doing. Still, we knew that someday it would come at a cost.

2015 Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient Berta Caceres, South and Central America

Her work brought her the Goldman Environmental Prize, many other awards, and international recognition, all of which should have shielded her from harm. Perhaps they did for a while. But they also made her an even greater threat to the business and media elite, the military and the corrupt politicians of one of the world’s most dangerous places in which to be an activist.

And so, she was silenced.

Now the Honduran police and government have begun a campaign of information obfuscation. They first claimed the attack on her was a botched robbery, then a “crime of passion.” Then, a lawyer for our family in Honduras told me, they detained a friend of Berta’s who saw the murder as a material witness, and have asked to question leaders of the council, while making an outrageous claim that there might have been a power struggle in the group. The most obvious suspects — the public and private agents who attacked and harassed Berta and the council for years — don’t seem to be on the investigators’ radar.

But this could, at long last, become a turning point for one of Latin America’s poorest and most violent nations. Berta Cáceres touched countless lives, and the outrage in Honduras and around the world is palpable.

Much more international pressure can and should be leveled at the Honduran government — for an independent international investigation to uncover not just the triggermen, but also the highest-ranking authors of this attack and so many other killings of activists.

Silvio Carrillo is a freelance film and news producer based in California whose work has included coverage abroad for CNN, Al Jazeera English and The South China Morning Post. [Emphasis added]

Piden investigación internacional del asesinato de Berta Cáceres, Familia de activista no confía en autoridades policiales hondureñas Tegucigalpa/ Agencias, March 6, 2016

People attend the funeral of murdered indigenous activist Berta Caceres, in La Esperanza, 200 km northwest of Tegucigalpa, on March 5, 2016. Honduran indigenous activist Berta Caceres, a renowned environmentalist whose family has labeled her killing an assassination, was shot dead on March 3 at her home in La Esperanza. Caceres rose to prominence for leading the indigenous Lenca people in a struggle against a hydroelectric dam project that would have flooded large areas of native lands and cut off water supplies to hundreds. AFP PHOTO / ORLANDO SIERRA

People attend the funeral of murdered indigenous activist Berta Caceres, in La Esperanza, 200 km northwest of Tegucigalpa, on March 5, 2016. Honduran indigenous activist Berta Caceres, a renowned environmentalist whose family has labeled her killing an assassination, was shot dead on March 3 at her home in La Esperanza. Caceres rose to prominence for leading the indigenous Lenca people in a struggle against a hydroelectric dam project that would have flooded large areas of native lands and cut off water supplies to hundreds. AFP PHOTO / ORLANDO SIERRA

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