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

Just Associates (JASS)

School of the Americas Watch

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.



#justixciaparaberta #SoyCOPINH



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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.

Members of Congress Call for Suspension of Security Funding to Honduras

December 7, 2016

Reps. Ellison and Johnson Call for Accountability for Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

WASHINGTON– Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Hank Johnson (D-GA), along with 27 Members of the House, sent a letter today to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Treasury Jacob Lew expressing growing concern about human rights violations in Honduras. This letter coincides with the nine-month anniversary of Berta Cáceres’s tragic murder.

The full text of the letter appears below, and the signed letter can be viewed here.

Dear Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew:

We write to follow up on our letter of March 17, 2016, signed by 62 Members of Congress, in which we expressed our concerns regarding the murder of Berta Cáceres — the internationally-renowned Honduran Indigenous rights advocate– and regarding human rights and U.S. policy in Honduras more generally. Since that time, our fears have only increased.

​We are concerned that the Government of Honduras continues to unduly limit access to the investigation into the murder of Ms. Cáceras and Gustavo Castro, a key witness who was shot along with Ms. Cáceres. Under Honduran law, victims and their families have the right to actively participate in the prosecution of the case; however, Ms. Cáceres’s investigative file remains secret seven months later. This significantly constrains the family’s legally guaranteed involvement in the case and limits its ability to advocate for a speedy prosecution of those implicated.

We are also alarmed that Honduran authorities were careless in handling the case file, as the file was allowed off government property and subsequently stolen. This raises further questions about the ability of Honduran authorities to manage Ms. Cáceres’s case and impartially prosecute the case.

​We were pleased to learn that five suspects were arrested in connection with Ms. Cáceres’s murder in May 2016 and a sixth suspect was arrested in September. Those arrested include: a current employee of the hydroelectric dam development company DESA, the builder of the dam that Ms. Cáceres and the Lenca Indigenous communities in Rio Blanco actively opposed; an active duty major in the Honduran military; and two former members of the Honduran military, one of whom was also a former employee of DESA.

Concerns remain that authorities have not brought into custody those that allegedly masterminded Ms. Cáceres’s murder, and authorities also did not seize relevant evidence during searches of DESA headquarters. On June 21st, the Guardian reported that a former soldier in a U.S.-funded Special Forces unit recounted he had seen Ms. Cáceres’s name on a death list allegedly belonging to the Honduran military. This, along with the identities of those previously arrested, suggests the involvement of high-ranking Honduran military figures in Ms. Cáceres’s assassination.

We welcome the November 14, 2016, announcement of the creation of the International Expert Advisory Panel (GAIPE), which was formed at the request of the Cáceres family with the support of COPINH and multiple civil society organizations. We hope that GAIPE can contribute to an impartial and independent examination of the pending criminal investigation. However, the GAIPE does not have access to information beyond that available to the family. In our March 2016 letter, we requested your assistance in pressuring the Honduran government to support an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) -led independent international investigation of Ms. Cáceres’s case. Despite offers of assistance from the IACHR, the Government of Honduras has not allowed such an investigation to proceed nor has the State Department taken a clear and public position in support of an independent IACHR investigation. We ask that you do so immediately.

Furthermore, violence against rights activists continues. COPINH activist Nelson García was killed in March 2016 and threats have forced his family to flee Honduras. In October 2016, Tomás Gómez Membreño, Ms. Cáceres’s successor as the general coordinator of COPINH, and Alexander García, a local COPINH leader in Llano Grande, survived assassination attempts. Most recently, on October 18, 2016, four masked men gunned down two land reform advocates from the cooperative MUCA in the Aguán Valley — an area where over 150 land rights advocates have been killed since 2009. MUCA members are protected by the IACHR, as was Ms. Cáceres, but the Honduran government has not yet complied with the commission’s protection order.

Finally, American taxpayer money should not be given to a government facing accusations of operating outside the rule of law and collaborating in targeted assassinations. We request that the U.S. government immediately suspend all police and military aid to Honduras until these mounting human rights concerns are addressed. We were disturbed to learn that on September 30, 2016, the Department of State certified the Honduran government had complied with the human rights conditions placed on aid in the FY2016 Appropriations Act, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The Act’s requirements for aid included the protection of human rights defenders and other political activists, prosecution of security forces who have committed human rights abuses, and the removal of the military from internal policing. Violations of these and other threshold requirements for aid have not been adequately addressed. We ask for the Department of State to reconsider immediately its decision. In addition, we reiterate the concerns expressed in our March 2016 letter regarding the termination of the Agua Zarca dam and reconsideration of U.S. support for loans from multilateral development banks to Honduras.

It is our hope that Ms. Cáceres’s death will lead to greater justice for the Honduran people. We appreciate your assistance in the realization of that goal and the consideration of the above requests.


Guardian-Berta Cáceres murder: international lawyers launch new investigation

A group of international legal experts has launched an independent inquiry into the murder of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres amid widespread concerns over the official investigation.

Five lawyers from the US, Guatemala and Colombia are in Honduras to try to uncover the intellectual authors behind the assassination of Cáceres and the attempted murder of her colleague the Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro.

The International Advisory Group of Experts (Gaipe, by its Spanish acronym) has been convened at the behest of Cáceres’s family, whose calls for an independent international investigation have been rejected by the government.

Read more here.