Just one more example of capitalism's ongoing onslaught on people and the environment for accumulation by resource control at whatever cost. All nations are complicit - the more powerful the more so. The capitalist system is the root of this and all similar global problems. Just like invasive weeds capitalism needs to be rooted out completely so together we can build a system that works for all.
Honduran authorities want Berta Cáceres in prison. Even more, they want her dead.
as she is fondly known by her many friends in Honduras and beyond, is a
Lenca indigenous woman, and one of the founding directors of the
National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras
(COPINH). She is now the face of social movement resistance in Honduras,
which in recent months has seen an escalation of state repression
against social movement leaders, indigenous peoples’ organizations,
environmentalists, and political dissenters. She went into hiding on
But as I write, against all odds, Berta Cáceres is still alive.
Resisting the Corporate State
one of the strongest voices in Mesoamerica for the defense of
indigenous peoples’ rights, was founded in the early 1990s to fight
logging companies in the territories of the Lenca people. After decades
of struggle, COPINH has expelled dozens of logging operations from
Lenca territories, recovered over 100 indigenous communal land titles,
and served as a critical voice in international forums advocating for
the right of indigenous communities to give or withhold their binding
consent to any megaprojects planned for their territories.
COPINH is struggling against a mega-complex of four large dams in the
Gualcarque River basin, called the Agua Zarca dam project, being
undertaken by a Chinese corporation called Sinohydro and a Honduran
company called Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA). For many months,
Lenca communities have stiffly resisted
the hydroelectric project in the region of Rio Blanco, the ancestral
territory of the Lenca people. Amidst rumors that Sinohydro may pull out
due to the complications of undertaking construction against the will
of the majority of people in the region, DESA has gone to great lengths to attack and undermine the local resistance.
an ongoing series of trials, Berta and two other leaders of
COPINH—Aureliano Molina and Thomas Gomez—have been charged with inciting
the communities of the region to cause material damage to
DESA-Sinohydro worth nearly $3.5 million U.S. dollars. The defendants
and Rio Blanco villagers have categorically rejected the accusations.
Fernández, the defense lawyer for the three indigenous leaders, says
the trials and the charges are all part of a strategy to force through
unpopular megaprojects like dams, mines, and industrial monocultures.
want to terrorize and weaken the social movement leaders and
criminalize the exercise of citizens’ rights,” Fernández said.
September 20, Judge Lissien Lisseth Knight Reyes ordered Berta to be
imprisoned immediately. She also ordered “alternatives to prison” for
Aureliano Molina and Thomas Gomez. Berta, who has been required to
report to a judge every week for months, failed to show up for the trial
on September 20 and has not been seen since.
Fernández, in an interview with journalist Giorgio Trucchi, said the judge’s decision in favor of the prosecution signals the beginning of a new phase of widespread repression.
again,” Fernández said, “this ruling demonstrates that, in Honduras,
the system of justice is easily manipulated to defend the interests of
corporations that have violated and trampled the dignity and the rights
of the indigenous people of Río Blanco.”
The September 20th
ruling that called for the immediate detention of Berta Cáceres also
called for the residents of Rio Blanco—who had been blocking the area
where the dam construction is to take place—to immediately abandon the
scene of the crime. Fernández calls the charge “totally
incomprehensible and unacceptable. Are they going to evict the people
from their communities and ancestral territories? This will imply
greater militarization of the zone and increasing violence.”
says Fernández, who is now at risk of arrest himself for expressing
his views in the case, “the justice sector has become an instrument in
the hands of these companies, and is operating as a hostage in the
service of capital.”
Levels of Struggle
The struggle continues not only in community protests and in the courts, but in financial arenas as well. Banktrack
is an international NGO network that pressures private and
multilateral banks to apply robust social and environmental criteria to
their projects. Having learned that the Netherlands Development Finance
Company (FMO) is currently considering
a request for financial support for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam
project, Banktrack has challenged the Dutch finance company to live up
to its own standards and refuse the project. FMO subscribes to
the performance standards of the International Finance Corporation and
the Equator Principles. Both call for broad stakeholder support and
free, prior, and informed consent for megaprojects. If those criteria
are to be upheld, Banktrack asserts, then FMO should suspend its loan.
the ground, meanwhile, the struggle is visceral and violent. In July,
the Honduran Army indiscriminately shot at demonstrators in Rio Blanco,
killing Lenca leader Tomás Garcia
and seriously injuring his son while they were walking with other
community members to the facilities owned by DESA and Sinohydro.
Uncounted others have been attacked, kidnapped, and threatened. The
killing of Garcia coincided with the passage of a new law on development promotion that will facilitate the sale of public and natural resources for development purposes.
Dana Frank, writing for the Miami Herald,
notes that the Honduran constitution explicitly forbids military
participation in policing. Nonetheless, President Porfirio Lobo has
gradually extended the “temporary” militarization of law enforcement
since he took power in a military coup in 2009. Military personnel now
routinely and randomly patrol neighborhoods in the large cities and
control the country’s prisons. On August 22, the Congress created a new
“hybrid” military police force that will have 5,000 new officers on
the streets by early October—a month before the election that many
believe could oust the coup-derived government.
In a 2012 New York Times
opinion piece, Frank laid responsibility for the Honduran human rights
crisis directly at the feet of the U.S. State Department and the Obama
administration, which quickly recognized Lobo’s electoral victory,
even when most of Latin America would not. Frank noted that “Mr. Lobo’s
government is, in fact, a child of the coup.” The Lobo government,
with the implicit support of the United States, has retained all of the
military figures who perpetrated the coup. And yet, for defending
their rights, Berta Cáceres and other community leaders are charged
with crimes against the state.
has long served as a resource colony and a military base for the
United States. Unlike in neighboring Central American republics, where
open violence and repression galvanized solidarity efforts worldwide,
the violence in Honduras has long been made invisible—ultimately
serving the interests of the United States and the extractive
industries that appear intent on wringing every last drop of blood from
the impoverished nation.
months before the country’s national elections, set for November 24,
2013, Honduras is under siege. The U.S. State Department, an important
player in the long and violent history of Honduras, has a clear role to
play in quelling the violence and ensuring that Berta Cáceres remains
alive—especially given the upcoming Honduran elections. But far from
censuring the Honduran government and its security forces for the
systematic repression of popular dissent, U.S. aid to the Honduran
police and military has risen steadily since the 2009 coup.
State Department reportedly withheld funds from the Honduran National
Police last year under congressional pressure to implement the Leahy
Act, which bans U.S. funding for security forces implicated in human
rights violations, but today the money continues to flow. The Obama
administration should stop funding Honduran security forces
immediately, denounce the violence perpetrated by the Honduran police,
and raise questions about the trumped up charges, harassment, and
extra-judicial killings that have forced Berta Cáceres to go fugitive
rather than submit to the fate of so many of her colleagues. In the
absence of clear signals from Washington, there is no possibility of
anything resembling a free and fair election in November.
or without government action, international solidarity is essential to
protect the human rights of Hondurans. In an attempt to raise the heat
on authorities in both the United States and Honduras, organizations
throughout the Americas have declared October 10-12 international days of action in support of Berta Càceres and the indigenous movements in Honduras. Groups from Amnesty International to School of the Americas Watch to Friends of the Earth International have called for solidarity, and an Avaaz petition
is demanding that President Porfirio Lobo drop the charges against
Berta and COPINH. It’s time that this little-regarded nation and its
fierce indigenous-led resistance got some justice.
By Jeff Conant - the International Forests Campaigner for Friends of the Earth-U.S.