How to kill hope – Berta CaceresMarch 6, 2016
When something precious is lost, we are shocked and saddened, our mode is clouded and our view of the world turns to grey. When this something is a human being, a relative, a friend, a person we admired and adored, we get depressed, discouraged, benumbed, paralyzed.
When the lost person is a public figure, a leader, the head or face of a movement, all ideals, values, causes for which this person stood, suddenly seem to be obscured, far away, unachievable.
This is the reason why the powers to be (by the ruling classes installed authorities and military forces) try to jail, expel, or kill leaders of protest movements. If the respected and revered leader is removed, her or his followers will be disheartened, demoralized, confused, frightened.
So they hope.
On March 2, shortly after midnight, at least two criminals broke down the door of a house in La Esperanza, Intibuca, to shoot and kill the Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres. She was hit by at least four bullets. Her friend Gustavo Castro Soto was also shot but only wounded.
The Honduran authorities try to portray the crime as a robbery. Caceres should have been protected by police, but the authorities claim that she moved to another house and didn’t tell them her new location. “We were protecting her old home at Villa El Calvario, but she had not reported this new house to authorities,” Police Commissioner Sergio Paz Bueso told journalists.
“I have no doubt that she has been killed because of her struggle and that soldiers and people from the dam are responsible, I am sure of that. I hold the government responsible,” her 84-year-old mother said.
In 2013, Caceres told journalists: “The army has an assassination list of 18 wanted human rights fighters with my name at the top. I want to live, there are many things I still want to do in this world but I have never once considered giving-up fighting for our territory, for a life with dignity, because our fight is legitimate. I take lots of care but in the end, in this country where there is total impunity I am vulnerable… when they want to kill me, they will do it.”
44-year-old Berta Caceres was one of the leading indigenous activists in Honduras. She spent her life fighting in defense of indigenous rights, particularly to land and natural resources.
Caceres was a member of the Lenca tribe, who lives in southwestern Honduras and eastern El Salvador. She grew up during the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980s. Her mother, a midwife and social activist, cared for refugees from El Salvador, thereby teaching her children the value of standing up for disenfranchised people.
Berta Caceres became a student activist and in 1993 co-founded COPINH (the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging, mining, and land acquisition.
She was a prominent leader in the indigenous movement against one of Central America’s largest hydropower projects, consisting of four enormous dams known as “Agua Zarca” in the Gualcarque river basin.
In the last few weeks, violence and repression towards Berta Caceres, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated, as they carried out peaceful actions to impede the construction of the dams by the internationally financed company DESA.
COPINH organized legal actions and community meetings against the project, and appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Protesters were regularly removed from the construction site by security officers and threats against the organization began to increase. On February 20, more than 100 protesters were detained. Caceres and two other activist leaders were charged with “usurpation, coercion and continued damages” for allegedly inciting others to commit crimes during the protests.
DESA, a Honduran company, pursues the project with the backing of foreign engineering companies and financial institutions, and the protests against the dam project prompted the withdrawal of China’s Sinohydro and the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation.
Caceres had called for other foreign partners, including the Dutch Development Bank, the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation, and the German companies Siemens and Voith, to pull out.
Because of the numerous death threats, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) formally asked the Honduran government to protect her. The UN now has condemned the government for failing to protect and activists have accused the authorities of having a hand in her death. More than 60 humanitarian and environmental groups from around the world have called for an independent international investigation into the assassination.
When the day after the murder hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Tegucigalpa to mourn the widely beloved environmentalist, the Honduran government responded with riot police to disperse the protesters.
Since the 2009 military coup, which was carried out by graduates of the US Army School of the Americas, Honduras has witnessed an explosive growth in environmentally destructive mega projects that mainly displace indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land is earmarked for mining concessions, creating a demand for cheap energy to power the planned mining operations. To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects around the country, privatizing rivers and land and uprooting communities.
Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate, repression of social movements and targeted assassinations are common. Journalists have repeatedly exposed ties between Honduran police and death squads, but most murders go unpunished and US military training and aid for the Honduran security forces continues.
In 2015, Caceres was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize. 10 years earlier her compatriot Jose Andres Tamayo, a Catholic priest and leader of MAO (Environmental Movement of Olancho) was awarded the same price. Father Tamayo was expelled from Honduras in 2009 and lives in exile in Nicaragua.
Honduras is a perilous place for environmental activists. In 2013 Caceres’s fellow COPINH leader Tomas Garcia was shot dead by a soldier. Several other members have been killed this year, according to the organization.
Between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmentalists and human rights campaigners were killed in Honduras, the worldwide highest death toll relative to population. A disproportionately high number of the victims were from indigenous communities who resisted development projects or the encroachment of farms on their territory.
When Honduran President Manuel Zelaya dared to challenge the US-controlled political status quo in Honduras, the Honduran elite defamed him instantly as a die-hard communist puppet of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro and organized his ouster in a military coup on June 28, 2009.
His transgressions had included raising the urban minimum wage to 290 US$ a month, demonstrating less than complete subservience to mining, agricultural, and financial foreign corporations, and proposing increased democratic participation by the Honduran public.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at first criticized the coup government, but then legitimated it. After months long phony deliberations about whether or not a coup perpetrated by the military qualified as a military coup and thus necessitated punitive financial measures, the US recognized the outcome of illegitimate Honduran elections held in November 2009 by the coup-installed regime. The elections were boycotted by most political parties and even by international observers, but the US administrations considered them as sufficient poof that democracy in Honduras was restored.
In a wold where the law of the gun overrides all other laws and where the exceptional rogue nation calls all the shots, traditional forms of public discourse, grassroots movements, environmental activism, organizing and campaigning, civil disobedience, become more and more risky.
Visionary and charismatic leaders should not sacrify their lives, they are the keepers of the flame and they are needed to keep the flame burning.
They have to educate and coordinate in secrecy, have to conceal their identity, use pseudonyms and encrypted channels of communication.
Also nobody else should sacrifice her or his life. Resistance, especially armed resistance against the theft of common goods, the destruction of nature, the poisoning of air, water, soil is hopeless, pointless. Armed resistance against inequality, exploitation, oppression, enslavement is hopeless too. The ruling elites have their armies of brainwashed minions armed to the teeth with the most advanced weapons — and the troops are eager to test their new toys.
Opting out, bypassing, boycotting, hiding will not be enough, will maybe even be forbidden one day. Hindering, subverting, obstructing, sabotaging is a criminal offense and will be punished with the full strength of the rulers laws.
Are we doomed then? Is resistance futile? Do we have to retreat into inner emigration, hoping that the system will collapse at one point by itself?
The system is vulnerable, it will collapse one day and we can prepare for this. There is no guaranty that something better follows, foresight and extensive planning for the time after are necessary. We can facilitate the collapse by various wicked and deft strategies, but this cannot be discussed here, cannot be discussed in public.
(There are for sure some tiny cogs deep inside the big machine which one could easily overlook but who are nevertheless essential for its functioning.)
We can of course alternatively try to participate in this game, go to the polls, try to persuade and convince, try to modify and improve.
Dear Concerned Community,
Environmental and economic justice leader Gustavo Castro Soto is the sole witness of the March 2nd assassination of internationally renowned social movement leader Berta Cáceres. He was shot twice. He is being forcibly held in Honduras, refused the right to return to his home country of Mexico until April 7th. In an act of intimidation, his lawyer has been unjustly suspended for 15 days for requesting a copy of his file.
Gustavo is in grave danger in the custody of the Honduran government, as what he witnessed is an impediment to the government’s attempts to pin Berta’s murder on Council of Popular Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the group Berta led.
Gustavo wrote in a recent letter: “The death squads know that I didn’t die, and I am sure they are prepared to accomplish their task… My life is still in danger.”
Please sign the letter from Otros Mundos and Mesoamerican Movement Against the Extractive Mining Model (M4), the groups Gustavo coordinates, demanding that the Mexican government keep Gustavo safe and ensure his immediate return to Mexico.
2. Take action to ensure an independently monitored investigation into Berta’s death and security for COPINH.
COPINH denounces the Honduran state’s manipulation of the investigation into the murder of Berta. Along with Berta’s family, COPINH demands a monitored and transparent international investigation by independent and impartial experts – critical to ensuring that the perpetrators and architects of Berta’s murder be brought to justice. They further demand security for all members of COPINH and change in US policy toward Honduras to stop the human rights crisis.
Every letter, email, call, mention in social networks is important to ensure Gustavo’s safety, a transparent investigation into Berta’s assassination, and support the ongoing struggles of Honduran defenders of justice and human rights.
Morever, COPINH and Berta’s family are in need of donations for their work in this crisis. Please make a tax-deductible donation via Rights Action today. Every penny will go straight to Honduras.