Berta Cáceres

Dear people,

My last update was entitled Corruption in Honduras, and included quite a rant about President Juan Orlando. It wasn’t a very positive piece, as you can imagine. There might be a bit more ranting about the man known as JOH, especially in this case which involves the Honduran military, which he controls and continues to increase the budget over education and health. Furthermore, his military police is US-funded and JOH and his regime has been backed by no other than Hillary Clinton. Now if I were American, I would be more inclined to vote for the Democrats. But I don’t know if I would vote for someone who says she’s liberal but then supports a regime and a man who heads a country referred to as a silent dictatorship. In terms of the race for American Presidency, I think Hillary should really wake up to see why so many people are following Bernie Sanders, rather than a technocrat like herself.

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I mentioned that my last piece wasn’t very positive. Neither is this I’m afraid. It’s about Berta Cáceres, an indigenous and environmental rights campaigner, who was murdered in her home in La Esperanza at 1am on Thursday, one day before her birthday, and two days before International Women’s Day. It’s hit the world media, featured in newspaper reports and TV news all over the place, with even recent Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio speaking about his sadness of Berta’s death.

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I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about Berta Cáceres. My wife filled me in as we were driving to work that morning, after hearing the news on the radio. As soon as she said Berta was human rights campaigner, that oh-so-familiar story began to play out in my mind. Between 2010 and 2014, the NGO Global Witness recorded that 101 campaigners had been assassinated alone in Honduras, from journalists, lawyers, activists or political opponents. I should therefore be very careful about writing this. I’m currently in a cafe poking these words on to my phone with the Presidential Palace just meters away and soldiers scattered around.

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Berta Cáceres co-founded the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (Copinh) with Tomás García, who was also shot dead by a military officer in a protest in 2013. She had recently been fighting against the construction of one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects being built by DESA in the Gualcarque river basin, with the backing of international engineering and finance companies. The project includes building four dams, one of which would have had devastating consequences for Río Blanco (White River), and has great cultural, agricultural and communal significance to nearby Lencan communities. She prompted the withdrawal of China’s Sinohydro and the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, as well as inspired other funders to pull out of the project. For her troubles, she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015.

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This had obviously angered many of the powerful elite in Honduras. On 20th February, Berta Cáceres and other Copinh participants were confronted by the army, police, local mayor and dam company employees, some of whom detained members of the group and issued grave threats. It wouldn’t be the first time. Berta’s been issued threats of rape or murder for her campaigning. She explicitly forecasted such a grave ending for herself.

“I want to live, there are many things I still want to do in this world. I take precautions, 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.”

As stated, this has hit the global news and looks pretty bad on the Honduran government, especially when the police announce a very fishy story about Berta shot during a house robbery; her son was also injured. The government should have been guarding her but, surprise surprise, they were nowhere to be seen (why would they guard someone they find financially inconvenient, a nuisance to their plans and a voice they would want, quite frankly, muted? I might be speculating, but when the military soldiers themselves had been threatening her, it certainly taints the government’s name. It wouldn’t be the first time). I’m not the only one pointing fingers at the government. The country is angry. First in line is probably Berta’s 84 year old mother, who rubbished police reports on the radio and went on to say:

“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.”

By killing Berta and trying to bury the case, they’ve opened a can of worms on an international scale which will have left those responsible with their head in their hands. However, despite Juan Orlando’s daft attempts to tell the country that nobody is above the law, I don’t expect much of an investigation, with or without US help, but we live in hope. JOH was warned about her security a year ago by the UN. It never prevailed. You have to wonder why. The same Mayor who was issuing her threats apparently tried to attend her funeral, only to get shooed away. There have also been violent clashes at the National University in Tegucigalpa in the last 24 hours, just a mile or so from where I currently live. While I don’t approve of the violence, I do plead Hondurans to take to the streets. Do it for Berta, a woman who dedicated her life to protecting indigenous people and the environment of her country. A lot more than many of your politicians. If not, at least sign this petition to try and have a more just investigation.

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I leave you with a link to a video, the Mother of All Rivers, about her work on the Gualcarque River.

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About Nicholas Rogers

I am an English journalist/copywriter living in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and I have been here since 2011. I originally came to work with Casa Alianza, which supports street kids and vulnerable youths. I then stayed on, after meeting Pamela Cruz Lozano, who calls me her adopted Catracho. I work freelance journalism and I have my own translation business. Why did I come here? For the challenge, to open my mind and get out of my comfort zone. I love literature and I've written a book with street kids. I write novels, short stories and poetry, all of which you will find on this blog, as well as a lot of information about Honduras. View all posts by Nicholas Rogers

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