Letter to Rep. Norma Torres from the Family of Berta Cáceres

Family of Berta Cáceres
XXXX Xth Ave.
Oakland, California
XXXXX

March 2, 2017

3200 Inland Empire Blvd.
Suite 200B
Ontario, CA 91764

Dear Rep. Norma Torres,

We, the family of assassinated Honduran environmental and indigenous rights leader Berta Cáceres, write to you today to appeal for your support for the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which was introduced this week in the U.S. House of Representatives

As the first Central American to serve in Congress and as a leader of the Central American Caucus in the House of Representatives, your knowledge and leadership on issues involving Latin America is crucial. We believe that your support for the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act will further strengthen your standing as an advocate for Central Americans and human rights, both in the U.S. and in Honduras.

The Cáceres Act calls for the suspension of “…United States security assistance with Honduras until such time as human rights violations by Honduran security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice,” for wide-ranging human rights abuses, such as the murders of dozens of activists including 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winner, Berta Cáceres.

A government that fails to protect its citizens and whose security forces are implicated in attacks and killings of activists should not be receiving security funding and training from the U.S. government.

In Berta’s case, after dozens of death threats and attempts to jail her on trumped up charges by state and non-state affiliated security forces, she was finally silenced. Three state security agents – one active and two former – are among those implicated in her killing so far. A former member of the military police, now in hiding, reported that Berta’s name was at the top of a “hit list” that his U.S.-trained unit received. The former soldier told the Guardian that he was “100% certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the army.”

With Berta’s assassination, Honduran girls and boys lost a heroine, someone they could look up to proudly and who they wanted to emulate. The subsequent investigation into her assassination has made a mockery of proper law enforcement procedures. The incompetence ranges from a trampled crime scene to the inexplicable disappearance of one of Berta’s computers from her house, to the burglary of her case files from a magistrate’s car and the arbitrary detention and torture of the key witness to the killing.

For many Hondurans and friends of Honduras, the killing of Berta – one of the country’s most beloved and high profile activists – was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Since 2009, hundreds of social leaders have been murdered in Honduras, often with the alleged complicity of state security forces. The vast majority of these killings are never investigated, and those responsible are never brought to justice.

As the original Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act states in its findings, “Impunity remains a serious problem, with prosecution in cases of military and police officials charged with human rights violations moving too slowly or remaining inconclusive.” It adds: “[T]he Department of State in its 2015 Human Rights Report for Honduras reports “corruption, intimidation, and institutional weakness of the justice system leading to widespread impunity.”.

This is why we ask for your help in supporting the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act. It is increasingly clear that the government of Juan Orlando Hernández is unwilling to act decisively to stop the killings of social activists in Honduras and to conduct honest and thorough investigations of killings and attacks. In addition the government has consistently failed to respect basic indigenous land rights as it is required to do under its international treaty obligations.

We ask you to stand with us, with Honduras, with Berta and our family.

Respectfully,

The Family of Berta Cáceres

Rep. Johnson reintroduces the “Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act”

Original post here.

March 2, 2017 Press Release

Congressman Johnson is joined by colleagues in efforts to withhold U.S. funds from Honduran police and military in the name of human rights
View in Spanish here

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04), with support from 24 Democratic Members of Congress, reintroduced H.R. 1299, the “Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act.”

The bill was first introduced in the wake of the tragic killing of the Honduran environmental and indigenous rights leader Berta Cáceres on March 2, 2016. H.R. 1299 would suspend U.S. funding to the Republic of Honduras for their police and military operations, until the Honduran government begins an investigation into law enforcement violating human rights in Honduras.

“Recent reports indicate that two of the men allegedly involved in a Berta Caceras’ murder were trained in the United States – at Fort Benning in Georgia to be exact – through the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), more commonly known as the School of the Americas,” said Johnson. “This underscores the need for increased oversight of American resources and security assistance provided to Honduras and is another reason why it was important to reintroduce the Berta Caceres Human Rights Act.”

The proposed bill, which also suspends funding for equipment and training, has gained traction and support from other key members in the House.

“I am proud to support this bill that will ensure that U.S. military and police aid is dispensed only when Honduran institutions have demonstrated a firm commitment to bring perpetrators of violence to justice,” said Rep. John Conyers.

“When we send American taxpayer dollars abroad, we are sending a message about our hopes and values as a nation,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky. “A year after Berta Caceres’ death, the Honduran government continues to turn a blind eye to the perilous situation that labor, environmental and indigenous rights activists face in their country, many times at the hands of their own law enforcement officials. Until and unless the Honduran government puts an end to those practices and instead permits an impartial and thorough investigation of past abuses, it does not deserve the support of American taxpayers. I am proud to join Rep. Johnson in re-introducing this legislation. I hope that we will be able to honor Berta Caceres’ legacy by improving the state of affairs for activists in Honduras.”

Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (MI-13), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), José Serrano (NY-15), Jan Schakowsky(IL-09), Keith Ellison (MN-05), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Susan Davis (CA-53), Jackie Speier (CA-14), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Daniel Lipinski (IL-03), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-01), Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), David Cicilline (RI-01), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Bobby L. Rush (IL-01), Paul D. Tonko (NY-20), and Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03) are original cosponsors of the bill.

A year after Cáceres assassination, US policy on Honduras yet to change


Link to original article here.
This week, hundreds of people are gathered in the small town of La Esperanza in Honduras to remember the extraordinary life of Berta Cáceres, brutally cut short one year ago by a death squad that included U.S.-trained security agents.

During her short time on Earth, Cáceres was a powerful leader involved in many struggles. She led protests against corporate-driven regional trade agreements. She was a key figure in the broad-based movement of peaceful resistance to the 2009 military coup that deposed Honduras’s democratically elected president. Later, she was an outspoken critic of the U.S.-backed militarization of Honduras that rapidly expanded after the coup.

Internationally, Cáceres gained fame for her relentless fight against the illegal appropriation of indigenous lands by corporations seeking access to valuable natural resources with no regard for local peoples or the environment. Her tireless efforts to block the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project on Lenca indigenous land earned her the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015.

It also led to an escalation of death threats and attacks against her and her colleagues at the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).

In the middle of the night on March 2, 2016, Cáceres was gunned down at her home in La Esperanza in a commando-style operation. The assassination of the country’s most renowned activist generated shockwaves throughout Honduras and the world; countless protests and vigils were held, and a broad array of groups demanded justice, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the Vatican and dozens of U.S. members of Congress.

An appalling number of activists have been killed in Honduras in the years since the 2009 coup, and nearly all of those killings have gone unpunished. Following Cáceres’s murder, the Honduran government — which receives tens of millions of dollars of U.S. assistance every year — has been under enormous pressure to properly investigate Cáceres’s killing, to protect activists and to clean up its corrupt, crime-ridden institutions.

But one year has passed and the distressing reality is that the situation in Honduras is more alarming than ever.

In the case of Cáceres’s assassination, Honduran police spokespeople initially followed their usual playbook in dealing with an activist killing, first suggesting that Cáceres was either murdered by a former lover or by a burglar attempting to rob her home.

Then, bowing to international uproar, authorities proceeded with an investigation that, while deeply flawed, eventually led to eight suspects being arrested and charged with Cáceres’s murder. At least three of the suspects were active or former members of the Honduran military, and another was a senior manager at DESA, the company responsible for the Agua Zarca project.

Honduran authorities have denied any role in Cáceres’s killing, but court records obtained by reporter Nina Lakhani for The Guardian indicate that one of the suspects, Major Mariano Díaz, had been appointed chief of military intelligence two years ago.

Díaz, as well as another suspect in Cáceres’s killing who served in the military with him, had both received U.S. military training, according to Lakhani. She also notes that the president of DESA, Roberto David Castillo Mejía, is a former military intelligence officer.

There is strong evidence that the eight suspects were involved in a murder conspiracy bearing the characteristics of a paramilitary death squad operation. It is, however, highly doubtful that the group acted autonomously or that it included any of the intellectual authors that commissioned the murder.

It is likely that those ultimately responsible for Cáceres’s killing are safely perched at the top of Honduras’ social and political ladder, beyond the reach of the country’s weak and politically compromised judiciary.

A January 2017 report by Global Witness examined Cáceres’s assassination and other killings and attacks targeting environmental and indigenous activists and found that these ventures typically involve the country’s economic and political elites, and frequently involve state security forces, which receive U.S. support.

Threatened with the suspension or reduction of U.S. foreign assistance by congressional appropriators, the administration of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández launched a major public relations campaign following Cáceres’s murder centered on a new police reform commission.

While the commission has removed many alleged criminals from the force, none of the purged officers has had to face judicial accountability, leaving them free to continue their criminal activities elsewhere — including within the booming and murky private-security sector. Furthermore, the purge has left in place a number of senior officers publicly known to be facing criminal allegations.

More importantly, neither the police commission nor the much-touted Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH, by its Spanish initials) has had any real impact on the situation on the ground.

Activists continue to be killed with impunity, including two more members of COPINH who, like Cáceres, had been granted protective measures by the IACHR, which the Honduran state had failed to enforce.

Illegal appropriations of indigenous land are still underway, and corruption and criminality still permeate the Honduran government at the highest levels. The Honduran judiciary has failed to investigate senior officials from the ruling National Party, including President Hernández, despite reports of the diversion of public money from the country’s Institute of Social Security to the coffers of the party and the president’s campaign fund.

Yet the U.S. government continues to pour tens of millions of dollars of aid into Honduras. Much of it is in the form of security assistance, channeled through the opaque Central America Regional Security Initiative, despite evidence of links between police and military units and death squads, such as the one that killed Cáceres.

The man in charge of these security forces, retired Gen. Julian Pacheco Tinoco, was recently identified as a drug trafficker by a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informant in the course of a trial involving the nephews of the first lady of Venezuela. But that hasn’t deterred the U.S. government, which appears to prioritize shoring up a reliable ally over protecting human lives.

Despite all the horrifying news out of Honduras, last fall the State Department went ahead and certified the Honduran government’s compliance with human rights conditions attached to U.S. aid. But, stirred in part by Cáceres’s killing, an increasing number of members of Congress are publicly opposing the U.S.’s Honduras policy.

This week, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and other members of Congress are reintroducing the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which calls for full suspension of security assistance to Honduras so long as minimal human rights conditions aren’t met.

Berta Cáceres may no longer be with us physically, but her indomitable spirit lives on, and her struggle continues. As thousands chant in La Esperanza and far beyond: “¡Berta Vive, la lucha sigue!”

Alexander Main is senior associate for international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

An Idealist’s Martyrdom Fails to Move Honduras, and the U.S.

Original NYT article

LA ESPERANZA, Honduras — Precisely a year ago, I awoke to a garbled text message from my mother. She was too distraught to write clearly, but I understood her immediately, and my heart dropped. Murderers had finally gotten to my aunt Berta Cáceres, who, as a child, had been young enough to be my playmate Bertita, and later, as a woman, was courageous enough to stand up to evil in Honduras.

As we mark this sad anniversary in the town where Berta died, there is no solace for my family. Neither Honduras nor the United States seems to have learned anything from this loss.

Berta spent most of her short life defying some of Honduras’s most powerful economic and political figures, in defense of the rights of native peoples.

Her assassination prompted horrified reactions around the world, especially in communities that cared about human rights, democracy and the notion that all humans are born equal. Her final, fatal campaign was against construction of a hydroelectric dam on indigenous lands without the consent of the Lenca community she had been born into. Her efforts had earned her international acclaim, including the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015.

On March 3, 2016, intruders broke into her home in the middle of the night and shot her dead, leaving tens of thousands of activists around the world to hold vigils and rallies demanding justice for Berta.

But in Honduras, justice is elusive. In recent years, hundreds of social activists have been killed here. Very rarely are the killers caught. Corruption and criminality are widely believed to reach into the highest levels of government. Meanwhile, the United States, which maintains troops, equipment and trainers at several military sites in this tiny and poor country, has made matters only worse by shoring up the corrupt government of President Juan Orlando Hernández with hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance and overt political support.

In the year since the assassination, Honduran authorities have captured eight suspects, none of whom seems important enough to have ordered the crime. At least two were employed by the company building the dam, and at least two others had served in the Honduran military. One soldier was an instructor for Honduras’s notorious military police force. Four months after the assassination, The Guardian reported that a unit from this force had maintained a hit list with Berta’s name at the top, according to a soldier who deserted the unit and fled Honduras.

Berta knew about this list, and since 2013, she had regularly received threats. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights repeatedly told the Honduran government that Berta should be protected; these requests were ignored. Meanwhile, the government provided military and police protection for the Agua Zarca dam.

A year after the killing, the situation in Honduras has become only worse. Activists and journalists critical of the government continue to be targets of violence. The public prosecutor’s office consistently fails to conduct proper investigations into the killings of activists. Yet the office receives full-throated backing from the United States’ ambassador and its State Department.

A recent report by the human rights group Global Witness notes that the United States gives Honduras tens of millions of aid dollars “directed to the police and military, both of which are heavily implicated in violence against land and environmental activists.”

United States support dates to the 1980s, when the country was a platform for the American-backed contras fighting in neighboring Nicaragua. Military and police assistance was ramped up after a 2009 military coup against a left-leaning elected president, Manuel Zelaya. Aid was also increased after an influx of Honduran children migrating through Mexico to the United States in 2014, in theory to help stem the flow. But much of this aid has been made up of yet more security assistance, as well as economic assistance meant to attract foreign investment in Honduras — money that most often supports elite business interests to the detriment of poor communities subject to exploitation.

The Honduran government and the United States claim that the aid has helped lower the crime rate. Ambassador James Nealon made a point of saying so in a meeting I attended, alongside human rights advocates, in Honduras in December. What he was talking about were pilot projects intended to tamp down gang violence so that fewer Honduran children would be feel compelled to flee north to the United States.

The ambassador didn’t disagree that Honduran officials manipulate crime statistics and that, as a result, the United States tries to get good numbers elsewhere. But whatever the true crime rate is, each time an activist or journalist is killed or attacked, the government shrugs it off as just another example of the country’s rampant violence. Indeed, police officials tried to do that after Berta’s killing, suggesting at first that she was the victim of a botched robbery or a crime of passion. But their comments only bolstered the widespread belief that killings of activists are the work of state security agents.

Under great pressure from the Vatican, the European Parliament and other foreign entities, Honduran officials did conduct a partial investigation of Berta’s murder, but they continue to stonewall demands for an international, independent, expert inquiry. Small wonder. Dozens of policemen and soldiers tramped through the crime scene. When my family was allowed to return to the house six months later, each room had been ransacked. A laptop and a tablet are still missing, as is one of three mobile phones Berta used. None of these was on a list of belongings that officials took from the house.

In the United States, dozens of members of Congress have sponsored legislation that would cut off security aid to Honduras until “human rights violations by Honduran security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.” The supporters are led by Representatives Hank Johnson of Georgia, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and other Democrats; it has been labeled the Berta Cáceres Act.

But our taxpayer dollars continue to flow to Honduras to support the government of Juan Orlando Hernández, thus enabling the climate of terror that is fed by his party’s corruption.

Today, we mourn not just the loss of Berta Cáceres. We mourn the loss of all the other Bertas in Honduras, like Tomás García, María Enfirquesta Matte, Francisco Martínez Márquez and many more. Wherever unprotected activists stand up to governments and corporations that encroach on indigenous land rights and other human rights, we must do all we can to stop our governments, corporations and lending institutions from playing the role of enabler.

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

Guardian: Berta Cáceres court papers show murder suspects’ links to US-trained elite troops

Leaked court documents raise concerns that the murder of the Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres was an extrajudicial killing planned by military intelligence specialists linked to the country’s US–trained special forces, a Guardian investigation can reveal.

Cáceres was shot dead a year ago while supposedly under state protection after receiving death threats over her opposition to a hydroelectric dam.

‘Time was running out’: Honduran activist’s last days marked by threats
Read more

The murder of Cáceres, winner of the prestigious Goldman environmental prize in 2015, prompted international outcry and calls for the US to revoke military aid to Honduras, a key ally in its war on drugs.

Eight men have been arrested in connection with the murder, including one serving and two retired military officers.

Officials have denied state involvement in the activist’s murder, and downplayed the arrest of the serving officer Maj Mariano Díaz, who was hurriedly discharged from the army.

But the detainees’ military records and court documents seen by the Guardian reveal that:

Díaz, a decorated special forces veteran, was appointed chief of army intelligence in 2015, and at the time of the murder was on track for promotion to lieutenant colonel.

Another suspect, Lt Douglas Giovanny Bustillo joined the military on the same day as Díaz; they served together and prosecutors say they remained in contact after Bustillo retired in 2008.

Díaz and Bustillo both received military training in the US.

A third suspect, Sergeant Henry Javier Hernández, was a former special forces sniper, who had worked under the direct command of Díaz. Prosecutors believe he may also have worked as an informant for military intelligence after leaving the army in 2013.

Court documents also include the records of mobile phone messages which prosecutors believe contain coded references to the murder.

Bustillo and Hernández visited the town of La Esperanza, where Cáceres lived, several times in the weeks before her death, according to phone records and Hernández’s testimony.

A legal source close to the investigation told the Guardian: “The murder of Berta Cáceres has all the characteristics of a well-planned operation designed by military intelligence, where it is absolutely normal to contract civilians as assassins.

“It’s inconceivable that someone with her high profile, whose campaign had made her a problem for the state, could be murdered without at least implicit authorisation of military high command.”

The Honduran defence ministry ignored repeated requests from the Guardian for comment, but the head of the armed forces recently denied that military deaths squads were operating in the country.

Five civilians with no known military record have also been arrested. They include Sergio Rodríguez, a manager for the internationally funded Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam which Cáceres had opposed.

The project is being led by Desarrollos Energéticos SA, (Desa), which has extensive military and government links. The company’s president, Roberto David Castillo Mejía, is a former military intelligence officer, and its secretary, Roberto Pacheco Reyes, is a former justice minister. Desa employed former lieutenant Bustillo as head of security between 2013 and 2015.

Cáceres had reported 33 death threats linked to her campaign against the dam, including several from Desa employees. Desa denies any involvement in the murder.

Cáceres was killed at about 11.30pm on 2 March, when at least four assassins entered the gated community to which she had recently moved on the outskirts of La Esperanza.

Berta Cáceres speaks to people near the Gualcarque river in 2015 where residents were fighting a dam project.

A checkpoint at the entrance to the town – normally manned by police officers or soldiers – was left unattended on the night she was killed, witnesses have told the Guardian.

Initially, investigators suggested the murderer was a former lover or disgruntled co-worker. But amid mounting international condemnation, Díaz, Bustillo and two others were arrested in May 2016.

Hernández, who was eventually arrested in Mexico, is the only suspect to have given detailed testimony in court. He has admitted his involvement, but says he acted under duress.

All eight have been charged with murder and attempted murder. The other seven suspects have either denied involvement or not given testimony in court.

Prosecutors say that phone records submitted to court show extensive communication between the three military men, including a text message which was a coded discussion of payment for a contract killing.

American experts have been involved in the investigation from the start, according to the US embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Senator Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Senate foreign relations committee, said US support should not be unconditional: “It is essential that we not only strengthen our commitment to improving the rule of law in Honduras, but we must also demand greater accountability for human rights violations and attacks against civil society.”

Berta Cáceres’s name was on Honduran military hitlist, says former soldier

Last year, the Guardian reported that a former Honduran soldier said he had seen Cáceres’s name on a hitlist that was passed to US-trained units.

First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz said that two elite units were given lists featuring the names and photographs of activists – and ordered to eliminate each target.

Cruz’s unit commander deserted rather than comply with the order. The rest of the unit were then sent on leave.

In a follow-up interview with the Guardian, Cruz said the hitlist was given by the Honduran military joint chiefs of staff to the commander of the Xatruch multi-agency taskforce, to which his unit belonged.

Cruz – who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym for fear of retribution – deserted after Cáceres’s murder and remains in hiding. The whereabouts of his former colleagues is unknown.

Following the Guardian’s report, James Nealon, the US ambassador to Honduras, pledged to investigate the allegations, and in an interview last week, said that no stone had been left unturned.

“I’ve spoken to everyone I can think of to speak to, as have members of my team, and no one can produce such a hitlist,” said Nealon.

But the embassy did not speak to the Xatruch commander, Nealon said. Activists, including those with information about the alleged hitlist, have told the Guardian they have not been interviewed by US or Honduran officials.

Lauren Carasik, clinical professor of law at Western New England University, said America’s unwavering support for Honduras suggests it tolerates impunity for intellectual authors of high-profile targeted killings.

“Washington cannot, in good conscience, continue to ignore mounting evidence that the Honduran military was complicit in the extrajudicial assassination of Cáceres.”

Extrajudicial killings by the security forces and widespread impunity are among the most serious human rights violations in Honduras, according to the US state department.

Nevertheless, the US is the main provider of military and police support to Honduras, and last year approved $18m of aid.

The Gualcarque river, sacred to local indigenous communities and the site of the controversial Agua Zarca dam.

The Gualcarque river, sacred to local indigenous communities and the site of the controversial Agua Zarca dam. Photograph: Giles Clarke/Global Witness
In recent years, US support has focused on Honduras’s special forces units, originally created as a counterinsurgency force during the 1980s “dirty war”.

The elite units ostensibly target terrorism, organised crime and gangs, but campaigners say the Honduran intelligence apparatus is used to target troublesome community leaders.

Violence against social activists has surged since a military backed coup d’état ousted populist president Manuel Zelaya in 2009. Since then at least 124 land and environmental campaigners have been killed.

A recent investigation by corruption watchdog Global Witness described extensive involvement of political, business and military elites in environmentally destructive mega projects which have flourished since the coup.

One of the most troubled parts of the country has been northern Bajo Aguán region, where a land conflict between palm oil companies and peasant farmers has claimed more than 130 lives over the past six years.

The Bajo Aguán is also home to the 15th battalion – one of two special forces units in the Honduran army – and the special forces training centre.

Two of the suspects, Díaz and Hernández, served in the 15th battalion together; Cruz’s elite unit was also stationed in the Bajo Aguán.

Ambassador Nealon said that there was no record of Díaz, Hernández or Bustillo attending any US training courses in Honduras.

“Our training programmes for police or for military are not designed to instruct people in how to commit human rights violations or to create an atmosphere in which they believe that they are empowered to commit human rights violations, in fact, just the opposite,” said Nealon.

Honduran military records show that Díaz attended several counterinsurgency courses at special forces bases in Tegucigalpa and in the Bajo Aguán.

He also attended cadet leadership courses at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1997, and a counter-terrorism course at the Inter American air force academy in 2005.

The court documents also reveal that at the time of his arrest, Díaz, 44, was under investigation for drug trafficking and kidnapping, while also studying for promotion.

Military records show that in 1997, Bustillo attended logistics and artillery courses at the School of the Americas, at Fort Benning, Georgia, which trained hundreds of Latin American officers who later committed human rights abuses.

Guardian article

Berta’s Assassination Anniversary, The Berta Cáceres Act, and The Global Witness Report

An update from the family of Berta Cáceres.

As with many policies the only things that have been predictable about the new president are tweets and well, unpredictability. Our assumption is that at the very least the current policies will stay in place as apparently the U.S. ambassador in Honduras will be staying until the summer.

The election brought in new members of Congress and the loss of five co-sponsors to our bill. A new legislative year also means we will to re-introduce the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act. We will need all of your support for this. If your representative didn’t support the act last session please pressure them to support it this time. In the next update we will send out information identifying who we need to target for support and how to do it.

Two major targets are Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA). Pelosi is supportive of our efforts and is working with us to gather support. Along with the State Department, Rep. Torres has continued to support the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez although she has acknowledged there is massive corruption by the JOH government. It is unclear why she would continue to support JOH or if someone is simply giving her bad advice. It is also a bit of a surprise given that she was born in Guatemala and came to the US when she was a child because her family was under threat, seemingly from the government. So, presumably she knows a something about repression and corruption.

As head of the Central America Caucus – and now appointed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee — she has a lot of clout and thus many members simply follow her lead. We need to begin informing her constituency what policies she has been supporting on Capitol Hill as they are not in line with what we Central Americans ultimately want.

Global Witness released a damning report today that calls for the US government to stop funding and supporting the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez:

“Our investigation sheds light on the back-door deals, bribes and lawbreaking used to impose projects and silence opposition. We also scrutinise how the US is bankrolling Honduran state forces, which are behind some of the worst attacks.”

Here are their findings.

Beginning in early March we will be paying tribute to Berta in a variety of ways and we will do our very best to keep you informed on what is happening where but its best to keep tabs on social media from your local NGOs that are involved where you live. A list of a few are at the bottom of this email.

Lastly, I traveled to Honduras in December with Witness for Peace. We met many groups who have been or are being displaced for one reason or another. Along the coast of Honduras near Tela the government is looking to build resort hotels. There are projects like this all over the country – many supported by US Aid that seem on paper to be doing good, but in reality are wreaking havoc in the lives of everyday Hondurans. Those who oppose these projects are either murdered or their lives are being turned upside down.

One example – aside from the assassination of my aunt Berta Cáceres – is the displacement of a Garifuna community of Barra Vieja described in the Global Witness report. The community simply walked along the beach to the closest large town. After the resort was put in place, security personnel blocked the community from accessing the beach. This included children who walked to school. The government subsequently built a road around the resort extending their commute to an hour just to reach the town by foot. This means children are less likely to attend school and emergency services have more difficulty reaching the village.

As always, thank you for supporting Berta’s legacy and let’s get this bill passed!

List of a few groups working on Berta Cáceres assassination anniversary and The Berta Cáceres Act legislation

Witness for Peace Midwest/Accion permanente por la paz

https://www.facebook.com/wfpmidwest/

Just Associates (JASS)

https://www.facebook.com/JASS4justice

School of the Americas Watch

https://www.facebook.com/Schooloftheamericaswatch/

The Guardian: Honduras elites blamed for violence against environmental activists

High-ranking politicians and business tycoons are implicated in a wave of violence against environmental activists in Honduras, according to an investigation by the anti-corruption group Global Witness, which says the country’s elites are using criminal methods to terrorize communities with impunity.

At least 123 land and environmental activists have been murdered in Honduras since a military coup d’état forced out the populist president Manuel Zelaya; many of the victims have been members of indigenous and rural communitiesopposing mega-projects on their territories.

The murder last year of the indigenous activist Berta Cáceres, recipient of the prestigious 2015 Goldman environmental prize, triggered international condemnation but failed to stop the bloodshed.

Cáceres was shot dead after years of death threats and state persecution linked to her campaign to stop the internationally funded Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque river, which is sacred to the Lenca people. Two of her colleagues have since been killed.

Desarrollos Energeticos SA (Desa), the private company behind the dam, was awarded the project without any community consultation. Company records obtained by Global Witness for the first time reveal that the company’s board of directors includes influential political, military and business leaders.

The company president, Roberto David Castillo Mejía, is a former military intelligence officer and employee of the Honduran state-owned energy company. Before her death, Cáceres told Global Witness that Castillo had offered her a bribe to stop campaigning against the dam, the report says. Castillo has denied trying to bribe her.

The company secretary, Roberto Pacheco Reyes, is a former justice minister, while the company vice-president, Jacobo Nicolás Atala Zablah, is president of the BAC Honduras bank, and a member of a powerful business family.

Seven people have so far been arrested for Cáceres’s murder, including two Desa employees and active and former military officers, but the activist’s family has repeatedly called for the intellectual authors to be held accountable.

Last year, an investigation by the Guardian revealed that Cáceres’s name appeared with dozens of social activists on a military hitlist assigned to US-trained special forces units.

A spokesman for Desa said the company was not involved at any level in Cáceres’s murder.

Since the 2009 coup, violence has increased dramatically, while successive rightwing governments have made environmentally destructive mining, agribusiness, tourism and energy projects the cornerstone of the country’s economic growth strategy.

Environmental checks and balances have been watered down or ignored and hundreds of concessions awarded en masse. Despite this, many of the projects are backed by prominent international financiers and institutions such as the International Finance Corporation and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Boys fish in waters near Barra Vieja, on the northern coast of Honduras. “We Garifunas are being persecuted by the government to evict us from our land for their touristic developments, which aren’t for the benefit of our communities,” said José Guzmán Niri, from the Barra Vieja Garifuna community.

A report titled Honduras: The Deadliest Place to Defend the Planet investigated five controversial projects opposed by local communities.

One of the most explosive allegations is of a conflict of interest for Gladis Aurora López, leader of the ruling National party and vice-president of congress.

López’s husband controls the Los Encinos hydroelectric project in western Honduras, where three indigenous activists have been tortured and murdered, and two pregnant women were severely beaten by a group of civilians and state forces, causing one woman to have a miscarriage.

The licences for Los Encino and another dam were granted in 2010 when Lopez was secretary of congress, even though it is illegal for members of congress or their spouses to obtain contracts or concessions granted by the state.

López and her husband deny any wrongdoing. Arnold Castro said that out of respect for the constitution, his wife, López, “did not participate in the session when the contract was approved”.

Another high-profile project featured in the report is Honduras’s flagship luxury tourism project, the five-star Indura Beach and Golf Resort on the northern Caribbean coast. The report details a wave of oppression including attempted illegal land grabs and false criminal charges against the indigenous Garifuna families who live next to the resort.

In addition, the hotel project was loaned $20m from a consortium of regional banks led by Ficohsa Bank, whose Panama division is currently under investigation for money laundering.

 The bank is owned by the billionaire Camilo Atala, a former cabinet minister and cousin of the Desa board member Jacobo Atala.

The hotel resort became part of Hilton’s luxury Curio Collection in November 2016 – after the alleged wrongdoings; there is no suggestion Hilton took part in these events. Desarrollo Turístico Bahía de Tela did not respond to the allegations made by Global Witness.

“We Garifunas are being persecuted by the government to evict us from our land for their touristic developments, which aren’t for the benefit of our communities,” said José Guzmán Niri, from the Barra Vieja Garifuna community.

The report notes that while on rare occasions arrests have been made, impunity remains the norm. This has made Honduras the most dangerous country in the world for environmental and land rights defenders.

Billy Kyte from Global Witness said: “Our investigations reveal how Honduras’ political and business elites are using corrupt and criminal means to cash in on the country’s natural wealth, and are enlisting the support of state forces to murder and terrorise the communities who dare to stand in their way.”

Despite growing international outrage about the violence, Honduras still receives millions of dollars of US aid.

“As Honduras’ biggest aid donor, the US should help bring an end to the bloody crackdown on Honduras’ rural population. Instead it is bankrolling Honduran state forces, which are behind some of the worst attacks,” said Kyte.

Link to original post from the Guardian

“Berta lives on, COPINH is strong” – COPINH calls for month of action

On March 2nd, 2016 they assassinated our sister Berta Cáceres. They thought they would get rid not just of her as a leader recognized throughout Latin America and around the world, but also would end a struggle, a political project, that they would destroy the organization of which she was both founder and daughter, COPINH (the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras).

 

One year since she spread her wings, since the crime that tried to steal her clarity and leadership from us, the peoples of the world who recognize her legacy are here, walking in her footsteps, confronting the patriarchal, capitalist, colonial and racist system that is imposed upon our peoples. We have been and will continue confronting the deadly projects of transnational corporations and imperialism in every corner of the planet.

 

In March we won’t just painfully remember that horrendous crime, above all we will celebrate life: the life of Berta, who was born on March 4th and the life of COPINH, which was founded 24 years ago on March 27th.

 

For all of these reasons, we invite you to use every day of March to multiply:

 

  • Actions of protest, resistance and struggle against the deadly policies of transnational corporations…
  • Actions to defend the bodies and lives of women in the face of the patriarchal and colonial system…
  • Actions against the criminalization of grassroots movements, against militarization and commodification of the lands and all dimensions of life…
  • Actions to denounce the Honduran State in front of its embassies in every country of the world…
  • Actions of solidarity with COPINH and with the organizations of the grassroots Honduran social movement…
  • Actions to spread the thinking and example of Berta’s life…
  • Moments of reflection and spirituality…

 

We call for these types of actions to be developed and spread through every corner of Abya Yala and the world. As movements, organizations and people, let’s accompany COPINH, embody it, multiply its march.

 

In all of these potential proposed actions, and all others that your creativity gives rise to, let the world shake with the cry of: “Berta lives on, COPINH is strong!”

 

In the face of militarization and criminalization, more struggle and organization!

 

With the ancestral strength of Berta, Lempira, Iselaca, Mota and Etempica, we raise our voices full of life, justice, liberty, dignity and peace.

  

BERTA LIVES ON, COPINH IS STRONG

#justixciaparaberta #SoyCOPINH

#bertavivecopinhsigue

 

Listen live: 

http://a.stream.mayfirst.org:8000/guarajambala.mp3

web:  copinh.org blog:  copinhonduras.blogspot.com

blog in English: http://copinhenglish.blogspot.com/

Utopia: https://utopiacopinhblog.wordpress.com/

fb:     Copinh Intibucá twitter: @COPINHHONDURAS

 

Statement from Berta Caceres family concerning arrest of alleged 7th ‘material’ author

Public statement concerning the arrest of Henry Javier Hernandez Rodriguez
January 15, 2017

The legal team representing the daughters, son and mother of Berta Caceres, as well as COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), since the arrest of Henry Javier Hernandez Rodriguez, declares:

a) Henry Javier Hernandez Rodriguez has been charged by the Honduran Public Prosecutor with the assassination of Berta Caceres and was issued an arrest warrant. According to the theory of the Public Prosecutor, Hernandez Rodriguez is a retired private in the Honduran military, and was a direct material author of the crime and is connected with two other soldiers who have been accused and imprisoned.

b) Mr. Douglas Geovanny Bustillo and Mariano Diaz Chavez, both with the officer rank of Major – Bustillo was retired and Chavez was active at the time of the assassination of Berta.

c) The criminal charge against Hernandez Rodriguez is not new. What we expect is progress in the investigation against the criminal structure, the intellectual authors that gave the order to execute the crime. We also continue to wait for criminal charges against senior government officials, and against the Honduran government, that had specific duties to protect the life of Berta Caceres and instead of protecting her, put her at greater risk.

d) We learned of the capture of Hernandez Rodriguez from the media! The Public Prosecutor has not made any attempts at communicating with us. We regret that this institution continues ignoring the rights of victims, maintaining an illegal and unjust secrecy.

e) A plea hearing has been scheduled on the 16th of January at 10am for Hernandez Rodriguez and on January 19th a preliminary hearing will be held for Sergio Ramon Rodriguez Orellana, Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, Atilio Edilson Duarte Meza, Mariano Diaz Chavez, Elvin Emerson Duarte and Heriberto Meza Rápalo Orellana. We will attend these hearings as Private Prosecutors, with the disadvantage of not knowing whether the Public Prosecutor has made any progress in the investigations into the facts of the case and the participation of the accused.

f) We advise the public that in the little bits of information we have learned of the investigation, serious inconsistencies and weaknesses in the Public Prosecutor’s approach to the case have become evident. These inconsistencies and weaknesses can interpreted as strategic actions to create impunity for the criminal structure, the intellectual authors that masterminded the crime against Berta Caceres.

We reaffirm our commitment to achieve comprehensive truth and justice of this crime. We will continue to demand that the state of secrecy surrounding the investigation be lifted for the victims and we demand that independent international experts be included in the current investigation.

###

US Representatives ask State Department to Revoke Honduras Certification

December 15, 2016

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We are writing to express our concern regarding the grave human rights situation and continuing deterioration of the rule of law in Honduras. We are particularly concerned with the State Department’s certification on September 30, 2016 that the government of Honduras has met conditions Congress placed on 50 percent of the aid to Honduras for Fiscal Year 2016, and ask that you revoke that certification.

As you are aware, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 required the State Department to investigate and report on whether the Honduran central government is taking effective steps to “combat corruption, including investigating and prosecuting government officials credibly alleged to be corrupt,” to implement policies to “improve transparency and strengthen public institutions” including the independence of the judiciary, and to “investigate and prosecute in the civilian justice system members of military and police forces who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights, and ensure that the military and police are cooperating in such cases.” It also requires that the government take effective steps to create an accountable police force and to “curtail the role of the military in domestic policing.” Absent these findings and a certification by the State Department, Congress required your agency to withhold 50 percent of the foreign aid funding for Honduras.

We believe the State Department was wrong to certify Honduras’ compliance with these requirements. There is significant evidence that impunity, corruption, and human rights violations continue unabated in Honduras. For example, President Juan Orlando Hernández and his ruling National Party have admitted that they stole funds from the National Health Service and diverted those funds into their 2013 election campaign coffers; yet the Attorney General has not prosecuted them. Héctor Iván Mejia, Director of Planning and Operations for the National Police (the third highest-ranking position), is documented to have committed gross violations of human rights and is still in office. Most recently, a captain in the Honduran Armed Forces and former DEA informant has charged that Samuel Reyes, the Minister of Defense, is a drug trafficker.

While an ostensible cleanup of the police is being enacted to much fanfare, the government’s purging commission itself includes a leader of the 2009 coup. The commission reports that a few hundred allegedly corrupt members of the police have been separated, yet as of this writing not a single case has evidently been forwarded to the Public Ministry for prosecution.

Judicial independence also continues to be undermined, contributing to further impunity. In February 2016, a new Supreme Court was elected by the Honduran Congress in a process widely denounced as non-transparent and illegal. Last October, the government announced it would not restore four judges who were illegally deposed for publicly opposing the coup, although their reinstatement has been ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. That same month, the Honduran Congress named judges to a new anti-corruption court in a process widely criticized by civil society as non-transparent and failing to incorporate the mandated input of civil society.

The military’s role in domestic policing also continues to expand, in violation of the Honduran Constitution. In August 2016, the government announced the creation of two new additional battalions of the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP), which answers to a military command but performs domestic police functions. Human rights groups have documented multiple committed gross violations of human rights by the PMOP, with impunity. In another alarming example of the military’s expansion in domestic policing, the important task force FUSDNA combines multiple civilian and military agencies, including regular police, in a single body under military supervision.

In addition to the previously mentioned requirements, we note that the 2016 Appropriations Act also mandated that the central government of Honduras create an “autonomous, publicly accountable entity to provide oversight’ of the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity of the Northern Triangle; implement policies guaranteeing the consultation of affected local communities and civil society groups, including Indigenous groups, in any activities of the plan; improve transparency; cooperate with commissions against impunity and regional human rights groups; and protect the right of the political opposition, journalists, trade unionists, human rights defenders and other civil society activists to operate without interference.

Nevertheless, no functioning oversight body for the plan has been enacted. In fact, a new “Law of Secrets” sealing off government records has dramatically decreased transparency. Moreover, the assassination of Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres in March 2016 has highlighted the ongoing and illegal failure of the government to consult with Indigenous and Afro-Indigenous people on the construction of hydroelectric dams and other development projects. Moreover, the freedom of activists such as Cáceres to exercise basic civil liberties continues to be threatened, often fatally. President Hernández himself has repeatedly and publicly charged human rights defenders with undermining the country. The government has still failed to implement an already-weak law designed to protect human rights defenders.

The government has also failed to comply with an order of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights mandating protection of over 300 Hondurans. This illustrates the Honduran government’s ongoing failure to cooperate with regional human rights groups, as Congress’s conditions require. A new Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), formed by the Organization of American States in 2015, has reported that the Honduran government has failed to pass new legislation it has recommended, and that the government does not cooperate with it.

Finally, we are concerned by a recent statement in which the Department of State declared that the United States does not oppose presidential reelection in Honduras, although the Honduran Constitution specifically bars reelection and even makes it a criminal act for a sitting president to advocate it. By issuing this statement just days after President Hernández announced his candidacy for reelection, the State Department signals a disturbing lack of respect for the rule of law in Honduras, along with its support for an administration that has along track record of undermining it.

We ask that you immediately revoke the certification of the 50 percent of funds allocated under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 that are subject to compliance with human rights conditions. More broadly, we ask that you rethink U.S. support for a government with such a long, established track record of human rights violations and concerted disrespect for the rule of law.