When the activist Berta Cáceres was assassinated in Honduras, in March, the news was devastating but not exactly surprising. Honduras has one of the world’s highest murder rates, and social activists are frequently targets—more than a hundred have been killed in the country since 2010. Cáceres, though, was someone with a significant international reputation. Ever since she won the Goldman Prize, a high-profile environmental award, in 2015, many had assumed that her prominence gave her a degree of protection. The fact that it didn’t—that her killers didn’t care about any potential fallout from her murder—was a reminder of the staggering impunity afforded to criminals in a country where ninety-eight per cent of crimes go unsolved. In the five months since Cáceres’s murder, two more members of the group that she led, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (copinh), have been killed.
Four months after the assassination of award-winning environmentalist Berta Cáceres, an indigenous activist and member of her organization has been killed
State department review of Guardian allegations comes as a group of Congress members renew call to suspend all US aid to Honduran police and military
The US government is investigating allegations that a hitlist of activists was circulated to special forces units of the Honduran military with instructions to eliminate the targets including Berta Cáceres, the celebrated environmental campaigner who was later gunned down in her home.
US officials have been in contact with counterparts in the Honduran government, as well as individuals and groups that monitor human rights in the country, to look into the allegations of a hitlist that were first reported in the Guardian.
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Berta’s children continue their advocacy. The youngest, Salvador, is working with NGOs in Buenos Aires where he is based continuing the call for Justice for Berta. Laura recently participated in a human rights defenders forum at the Carter Center in Atlanta, GA, where former President Jimmy Carter was critical of State Department funding stating, “The United States is complicit in the oppression of abusive governments when we provide weapons and financial aid to them, as is the case in Egypt, in Honduras, and other nations,”
Bertita Zúniga has been working with CEJIL (the Center for Justice and International Law) in Costa Rica, who are coordinating the legal work being done on Berta and her family’s behalf. And Olivia has been hard at work in Honduras as well as taking care of Berta’s mother, Austra Bertha.
June 15th was the worldwide day of action demanding justice for Berta. It was wonderful to see the support of hundreds of people protesting at Honduran embassies and consulates around the world. On that same day, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), introduced legislation called the “Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act” (H.R. 5474).” The bill calls for the suspension of military and security aid to Honduras.
This bill is a bittersweet cause for celebration. It helps us keep Berta’s name in the news; it creates a goal for us to get this legislation passed or at least fight for it to get passed, and most importantly, it keeps the investigation and the Honduran government’s colossal amount of corruption in the limelight.
And, speaking of the investigation, it is nowhere. The intellectual authors are still being concealed by the government. It appears they are trying to run out the clock, or more than likely, will act just before Congress has to approve the $18 million aid package in September.
After the day of action, The Guardian published a story quoting a former Honduran army solider stating that Berta’s name was at the top of an elite army unit hit list. It is well-documented that this particular unit received training by the U.S. military.
From The Guardian:
According to Cruz, Cáceres’s name appeared on a list given to a military police unit in the Inter-institutional Security Force (Fusina), which last summer received training from 300 US marines and FBI agents.
A few days later the U.S. State Department spokesperson denied any legitimacy to the report:
From The Intercept:
“State Department spokesperson John Kirby on Wednesday repeatedly denied that the government of Honduras kills its own citizens, saying more than a dozen times that he has not heard “credible evidence” of “deaths ordered by the military.”
Kirby’s comments were even at odds with the State Department’s own human rights reports on Honduras, which for the last two years have referred to “unlawful and arbitrary killings and other criminal activities by members of the security forces.”
Former Honduran Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales is, not surprisingly, back. After the New York Times claimed he had been a victim of Juan Orlando Hernandez’s police corruption clean up he’s now back as the interlocutor between the government and MACCIH. Not only that, according to El Tiempo, he is now some kind of “Super Minister,” with special powers. Corrales was one of the main players in the 2009 coup and one who has made millions from privatizing the energy and water sectors.
And after all that frustratingly bad news, here’s at least a bit of good news. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote a letter to the editor in the Miami Herald after Sen. Marco Rubio returned from a trip to Honduras in which he stated that the government was on the “right path.” Leahy responds,
“I have no doubt that Rubio met Honduran officials who told him they plan to reform the police, reduce corruption and violent crime, create jobs and protect human rights.
I have heard those same promises since I first visited Honduras in 1993.
Since then, U.S. taxpayers have provided many hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to address these very problems.
Yet, Honduras is far worse off today than it was in 1993. Almost nothing I have been told by successive Honduran government officials has turned out to be the truth.”
A mixed bag of news but we continue to appreciated your support. The final thing we leave you with is this essay posted recently on Fusion.net.
How can you help?
Go to BertaCaceres.org and donate to Berta’s children, mother and COPINH. The money is needed to keep pressure on both the US and Honduran governments. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. The more people we educate about what is happening the more Berta’s work and legacy can bring change to Honduras.
Berta Caceres was my aunt. She was two years older than me.
She was the girl I chased around my grandmother’s garden, but never caught. She’s the one who would dive into the cold mountain stream in La Esperanza, Honduras, then egg me on to jump in too.
Berta was fearless her entire life—up until the day she was assassinated on March 3.
State Department spokesperson John Kirby on Wednesday repeatedly denied that the government of Honduras kills its own citizens, saying more than a dozen times that he has not heard “credible evidence” of “deaths ordered by the military.”
His comments came in the wake of a high-profile assassination of Honduran native-rights activist Berta Cáceres in March, and a report in the Guardian that a high-level deserter from the Honduran army said he is “100 percent certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the [Honduran] army.”
Dept. of State Daily briefing:
Daily Press Briefing
June 22, 2016
QUESTION: Are we good on Honduras now? Okay. So I wanted to ask – there was a report The Guardian yesterday from a high-level deserter from the Honduran army that noted environmental activist Berta Caceres was killed by Honduran Government forces, that her name appeared on a kill list of activists and community leaders that was circulated to multiple U.S.-trained Honduran Government army units – some might say “death squads.” How would you respond to the accusation that she was killed by the Honduran Government?
MR KIRBY: We’ve seen media reports alleging the existence of a Honduran activist hit list, as you’ve described it.
MR KIRBY: The U.S. Government has not previously heard any credible allegation of hit lists, of deaths ordered by the military, and we do not have any information which would substantiate this report.
QUESTION: You have not – you’ve not heard of these kill lists?
MR KIRBY: I think that’s what I just said. We don’t –
MR KIRBY: We haven’t heard of any credible allegation of hit lists, of deaths —
QUESTION: I mean, since —
MR KIRBY: — and we do have any information that would substantiate this report.
QUESTION: Since the transition of power took place, Honduran human rights activists have documented dozens, hundreds of community leaders, activists, journalists murdered by government forces. I mean, just back in April Honduran rights activists were on Capitol Hill saying that death squads have returned to Honduras. You’re saying you don’t know about this?
MR KIRBY: Sir, I can say it again for you if you want. But we —
QUESTION: You’re saying —
MR KIRBY: — don’t have any – we have not seen any credible allegations of this list. But if you’ll let me finish —
MR KIRBY: — if we were to come into information that would prove that credible, we would obviously take it very seriously. It’s important to note the United States has provided its security and military aid to Honduras in the form of training, equipment, supplies, and other non-cash support, and we’re constantly reviewing – as we always do – our support of Honduran security and military forces in accordance with U.S. law.
QUESTION: So this changes nothing in regards to sort of human rights vetting of Honduras?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that. Well, first of all, we haven’t seen credible allegations. As I said, if we do, we’re going to take it seriously. Number three, we’re always reviewing our support and assistance to Honduras in accordance with U.S. law, which we obey and we will continue to obey. So if there’s credible information that backs up these reports, we’re going to take it seriously. And we’ll use that in what is an ongoing constant review of our security assistance with Honduras.
QUESTION: One human rights professor called this “smoking-gun evidence.” If this isn’t credible, what is credible evidence in the level you’re talking about?
MR KIRBY: We haven’t seen, in our view, credible evidence to back up these allegations. If we do, we’ll take it seriously.
QUESTION: Have you met with some of these activists that he’s speaking about in the Capitol?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such meetings.
QUESTION: When you talk about you haven’t seen credible evidence to – about these accusations, is it the accusation that there was a hit list or the accusation that the government —
MR KIRBY: There’s no specific —
QUESTION: Hold on. Wait – I just want to – which accusation are you talking about, the one that there was a hit list or that the military or police may have been involved in these killings? Both or one?
MR KIRBY: Both. We have not seen any credible evidence to support the existence of a hit list. I’m not saying that there isn’t; I’m just saying we haven’t seen it.
QUESTION: I get it.
MR KIRBY: And if we did, we’d take it seriously. And at this time, there’s no specific credible allegations of gross violations of human rights that exists in this or any other case involving the security forces that receive U.S. Government assistance. And we obey the law. If we see it —
QUESTION: Well, there’s pretty much credible –
QUESTION: There have been hundreds of documented accounts in Honduras of either abuses ranging from beatings to torture all the way up to killings, and you haven’t met with any of these activists or journalists who have documented these things? Can you confirm that?
MR KIRBY: I didn’t say that we didn’t. I said I’m not aware of any meetings.
QUESTION: Well, there’s clearly abuses going on. It’s a question of who’s committing them, right? You’re saying that you don’t have any – you haven’t seen any credible evidence that the security forces are playing a role in this?
MR KIRBY: I’ll say it again. At this time, there’s no specific credible allegations of gross violations of human rights.
QUESTION: Yeah, I get it. I think the reason you’re being asked to repeat it is because it’s kind of hard to believe.
QUESTION: Have you investigated it, or you’re just waiting for credible evidence to land in your lap?
MR KIRBY: We don’t have credible evidence to support —
QUESTION: I know – you don’t – please stop saying that. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: I mean, I don’t know how else to —
QUESTION: I’ll return to my question, which is: What credible evidence —
QUESTION: No, no, no, but you haven’t said —
QUESTION: What evidence do I have to bring you —
QUESTION: No, no, no, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.
MR KIRBY: Hey. Hey, relax.
QUESTION: You haven’t said that you – have you investigated this?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any investigations because there’s no specific or credible allegations to support such an investigation. But if the presumption in the question is that we don’t take this seriously —
QUESTION: It wasn’t.
MR KIRBY: — it’s false and baseless.
QUESTION: It —
MR KIRBY: Of course we take it seriously.
QUESTION: It wasn’t. You said that there’s no credible evidence and the question is: Have you been looking for evidence or you’re just waiting for it to fall into your lap, in which case you would launch an investigation?
MR KIRBY: We constantly – as I said earlier, we constantly review our relationship with security forces in Honduras. It’s not something that we just sit back and wait. We actively, constantly review that kind – that relationship, as we do with other military relationships around the world. I mean, it’s not that we’re just sitting back waiting for somebody to drop something in our lap. And —
QUESTION: Have you contacted The Guardian? And what would be your timeline to investigate this (inaudible) it seems very serious?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware that we’ve contacted The Guardian – the newspaper – about this. Okay? Thanks.
QUESTION: Wait. No, no, no, no.
QUESTION: Can we – can we do one (inaudible)?
QUESTION: No, no, no. No, no, no, no.
MR KIRBY: You guys are the ones who said you wanted to —
QUESTION: Just —
MR KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just one more on this Honduras thing. Does the United – say it were true that there was a hit list, that these were U.S.-trained people, they had one and they went out and killed these people. Do you – does the United States take responsibility just because these people were trained by the U.S.? Do you feel that you have some kind of a responsibility to either the Honduran Government or people for the actions of security forces that you may have – that you trained?
MR KIRBY: What we have a responsibility to do is to properly manage the aid and assistance that we give to foreign militaries —
MR KIRBY: — and if there’s – no, wait, let me finish – if there is – if there’s evidence that proves that there are human rights violations and abuses by security forces that we are supporting, whether that’s through training, material equipment, we absolutely have a responsibility to alter that relationship and to hold them to account for those human rights abuses, and we do do that. I mean, that is the foundation of the law that we must obey.
If you’re asking, are we going to blame ourselves for the specific human rights violations of another human being in that regard, that’s a pretty difficult connection to make. But we certainly will hold —
MR KIRBY: — that unit to account.
QUESTION: Can you – it just seems – there just seems to be a level of incuriosity on the part of the —
MR KIRBY: No, I would refute that, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, if you say —
MR KIRBY: I would refute that 100 percent.
QUESTION: Well, can you take the question, then, to find out exactly what it is the department is doing to look into these – you say there aren’t any credible allegations, but an allegation has been made – several, numerous, many. Are you looking into those allegations to see if there’s any credence to them?
MR KIRBY: We —
QUESTION: Or are you just not?
MR KIRBY: We constantly review allegations of misconduct. There’s ongoing – I’m not going to take the question because I don’t need to. We absolutely – ongoing review —
QUESTION: Well, I —
MR KIRBY: — of the military relationship.
QUESTION: But does that include this specific allegation —
MR KIRBY: And we take allegations – we take them —
QUESTION: — that was in the newspaper?
MR KIRBY: We take them seriously, and if they – if they are —
QUESTION: It doesn’t sound —
MR KIRBY: If they are credible, we look into them.
QUESTION: How many times —
QUESTION: Okay. But it doesn’t sound like you’re taking it seriously if you say, “Oh, it’s just in a newspaper report, we haven’t looked into it.” So I just want that – so specifically, what I’m asking is: Are you looking into this specific hit list, U.S.-trained people report, or are you not? Maybe you’re not. I don’t know.
MR KIRBY: As I said, we took – we’ve seen the press report. Yes, we take that seriously, and we don’t have any credible allegation, other than the media report, of hit lists of deaths ordered by the military. Now, if —
QUESTION: So you’re saying that this report is not a credible allegation?
MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Elise, please. Let me finish.
QUESTION: Well, you’ve said that 40 times, so I —
MR KIRBY: Let me – well, apparently, I need to say it 50. If we – if there – if any additional information comes to light that proves there’s credibility to these allegations, obviously, we’re going to take that very, very seriously.
QUESTION: How do you determine the credibility of the allegation? If there’s an allegation made in a major British newspaper, how many times from that podium have you said, “We’ve seen the reports and we’re seeking further clarification”? And you don’t seem to be saying that here.
MR KIRBY: Obviously, we’re concerned by the press report, and of course we’re looking at that. Of course we are.
QUESTION: Thank you, end of question.
MR KIRBY: But I don’t have additional, credible information about it.
Berta Cáceres, the murdered environmental campaigner, appeared on a hitlist distributed to US-trained special forces units of the Honduran military months before her death, a former soldier has claimed.
Lists featuring the names and photographs of dozens of social and environmental activists were given to two elite units, with orders to eliminate each target, according to First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz, 20.
The BERTA CÁCERES HUMAN RIGHTS IN HONDURAS ACT has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, demanding a suspension of all U.S. security aid to Honduras, and we need your help securing more sponsors!!! Representatives Johnson (GA), Conyers (MI), Ellison (MN), Kaptur (OH), Serrano (NY), and Schakowsky (IL) are the initial co-sponsors of the bill, led by Johnson, but we should be able to get all the other signers from the Ellison-Johnson letter, plus more! Below is the action alert, then a couple lists of targets. I will send the bill (in Spanish and English) and bill number as soon as I get the official copies.
Please let me know which Representatives you can work on– All members of Congress are possible signers! Please use the action alert below to mobilize your local solidarity networks to take action ASAP.
If you learn that your member of Congress has agreed to sponsor the bill, please notify me, Elise Roberts, at email@example.com so we can confirm. I’ll circulate updates of sponsors as they are available.
IMMEDIATE ACTION NEEDED!
We need your help! This morning Representatives Hank Johnson (GA), joined by Reps. Conyers (MI), Ellison (MN), Kaptur (OH), Serrano (NY), and Schakowsky (IL) introduced a bill calling suspension of U.S. military and police aid to Honduras until human rights violations committed by Honduran security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.
The bill states that “The Honduran police are widely established to be deeply corrupt and to commit human rights abuses, including torture, rape, illegal detention, and murder, with impunity” and that the military has committed violations of human rights, and therefore asks that the United States suspend all “…security assistance to Honduran military and police until such time as human rights violations by Honduran state security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.”
The bill features the following demands:
• All U.S. aid to Honduran security forces must cease, and the U.S. must vote no on all loans from multinational development banks to Honduras until the following conditions are met:
– A full investigation and prosecution into the murders of Berta Cáceres, 100 small-farmer activists in the Aguán Valley, Joel Palacios Lino and Elvis Armando García.
– A full investigation and prosecution of the armed attack against Félix Molina.
– A full investigation and prosecution of those members of the Honduran military and police forces who have committed human rights abuses.
– That the Honduran military withdraw from domestic policing, as mandated in the constitution.
– That the rights of “…land rights defenders; trade unionists; journalists; Indigenous, Afro-Indigenous, small farmer and LGBTI activists; human rights defenders; critics of the government; and other civil society activists…” are protected.
– Take steps toward establishing the rule of law and strong democratic systems such as a functioning judiciary branch capable of prosecuting member of the military and police forces.
WE NEED TO RALLY NOW AND BUILD MOMENTUM, WHILE THERE ARE LOTS OF PRESS AND EVENTS FOR THE DAY OF ACTION!! There will be immediate counter-pressures on all Reps. not to sign the bill, and we’ll need to get out of the gate fast, and keep the pressure on.
To co-sponsor the bill (or if the staffer wishes an official copy of the bill), you representative’s staffer must contact Sasha Foertsch (Sascha.Foertsch@mail.house.gov) in Rep. Johnson’s (GA) office. (NOTE: please do not contact Rep. Johnson’s staff yourself, but ask the staffer to do so).
When you call you Representative’s office, ask to speak to the foreign policy aide. Use the script below in speaking with the aide. If the aide has not seen the bill, ask for the aide’s email address so that you can forward a copy of the bill. If the foreign policy aide is not available, ask to leave a message on their voice mail. Be sure to get the name foreign policy staffer so you can follow up.
Script: “My name is _____. I am a constituent from (your town/city) in (your state). I am calling to ask Rep. _____ to co-sponsor H.B. XX, The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act calling for a suspension of U.S. security aid to Honduras until human rights violations committed by the Honduran security forces cease. Has Rep. _______ seen this bill? Can I count on him/her to sign on? Please call me this week at (_your phone number_) to let me know if you have seen the letter, and if Rep. _____ will sign it.”
**In your phone conversation, please highlight why this letter is important to you, especially if you have traveled to Honduras or heard a Honduran speak in your community.
It’s useful to follow up with an email to the aide. Here are a few useful articles:
If you learn that your Representative has agreed to support this bill, please notify me, Elise Roberts, at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can confirm the co-sponsorship with Rep. Johnson’s office. Please contact me if you want to know if your Rep. has signed on. I will circulate updated lists of co-sponsors whenever we receive them.
If you are in the district of one of the five original sponsors, please be SURE to thank them profusely, and get your friends to, as well. They are up for re-election and need support from the district for taking on this issue. Schakowsky’s name does not show up in the current typseset version of the bill, but she is an initial co-sponsor along with the other five.
ALL members are very important to work, hard, including those who did not sign the previous letter, especially Reps. Farr, Torres, Lowey, Engel, Meeks, and many many others. Republicans matter, too—some of them do not support U.S. foreign security aid.