By Mark Sullivan, NLG Task Force on the Americas
Indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres of Honduras was murdered in her home late on March 2, 2016. Cáceres was a fierce inspirational force known for her work for indigenous rights, environmental struggles, social and economic justice, feminism and more. As a result of her leadership in these areas, Cáceres and her family were repeatedly threatened and criminalized by the powerful entities that she confronted, and her murder is a deep and tragic loss for the social movements in Honduras.
Many NLG members remember Cáceres’ presentation at our NLG election observation delegation in November 2013. At the time, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), which Cáceres co-founded and led, was in the middle of a struggle to resist a dam being built on indigenous territory near Rio Blanco. Cáceres was defending herself against trumped up charges of gun possession, usurpation and damages. There was an active warrant for her arrest, and although she was in hiding, she graciously came to speak to our group about the election and its relationship to multi-nationalization, militarization, repression, and the privatization of resources. She told us that she received endless death threats and intimidation, and she had recently received a hit list that included the names of several leaders of social movements in Honduras. The first name on that list was Berta Cáceres.
In response to her murder, the NLG mobilized an emergency delegation to Honduras to investigate the circumstances and evaluate the response by Honduran
and U.S. authorities. NLG delegation members traveled to Tegucigalpa and La Esperanza, where Cáceres lived and was killed. The delegation interviewed more than 20 people, including members of Cáceres’ family, activists from COPINH, U.S. Embassy personnel, Honduran government officials, and others. Our findings and evaluation are included in our report. The NLG echoed the concerns of many observers regarding irregularities in the investigation and we expressed a lack in confidence that the same government that failed to protect Cáceres, and whose legal institutions are notoriously corrupt and plagued by impunity, can be trusted to investigate and prosecute the material and intellectual authors of her murder.
On May 2, the family learned that the Honduran government had arrested four men in connection with the murder. The subsequent indictment did not include
the evidentiary basis for the arrests, and each of the four defendants (later five) has denied involvement in the crime. The family has repeatedly requested further information but they have been given little, so there are deep suspicions as to the efficacy of the investigation, and whether all those involved have been identified.
Meanwhile, repression and violence continue to escalate in Honduras. Two weeks after Cáceres’ murder, another COPINH leader was murdered after Honduran security forces carried out a violent eviction. Protests have been violently repressed. Journalists and human rights defenders have been increasingly targeted. Lawyers and judges are silenced by fear. The situation in Honduras is unlikely to improve without massive international pressure and we, as Guild members, must continue to lead in these efforts.
Editor’s Note: One of Berta Cáceres’ most passionate areas of work was indigenous land rights. Watch the film, ZEDEs: Neocolonialism and land grabbing in Honduras produced by Mark Sullivan and an NLG Delegation to Honduras to investigate the so-called “Zones of Economic Development and Employment.” Their report on ZEDEs is available at www.nlginternational.org.