Slain Activist Berta Cáceres' Daughter: U.S. Military Aid Has Fueled Repression & Violence in Honduras
March 18, 2016
Less than two weeks after the assassination of renowned activist Berta CÃ¡ceres, Nelson GarcÃa was shot to death Tuesday after returning home from helping indigenous people who had been displaced in a mass eviction by Honduran security forces. GarcÃa was a member of COPINH, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, co-founded by Berta CÃ¡ceres, who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize last year for her decade-long fight against the Agua Zarca Dam, a project planned along a river sacred to the indigenous Lenca people. She was shot to death at her home on March 3. On Thursday, thousands converged in Tegucigalpa for the start of a mobilization to demand justice for Berta CÃ¡ceres and an end to what they say is a culture of repression and impunity linked to the Honduran government’s support for corporate interests. At the same time, hundreds of people, most of them women, gathered outside the Honduran Mission to the United Nations chanting "Berta no se muriÃ³; se multiplicÃ³ – Berta didn’t die; she multiplied." We speak with CÃ¡ceres’s daughter, Bertha ZÃºniga CÃ¡ceres, and with Lilian Esperanza LÃ³pez BenÃtez, the financial coordinator of COPINH.
Watch: Democracy Now! interviews with CÃ¡ceres’s daughter, Bertha ZÃºniga CÃ¡ceres, and with Lilian Esperanza LÃ³pez BenÃtez, the financial coordinator of COPINH. Full transcript below.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Honduras, where another indigenous environmentalist has been murdered, less than two weeks after the killing of renowned activist Berta CÃ¡ceres. Nelson GarcÃa was shot to death Tuesday after returning home from helping indigenous people who had been displaced in a mass eviction by Honduran security forces. GarcÃa was a member of COPINH, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, co-founded by Berta CÃ¡ceres. She won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize last year for her decade-long fight against the Agua Zarca Dam, a project planned along a river sacred to the indigenous Lenca people. She was shot to death at her home on March 3rd. In a statement, Honduran police said the two killings were unrelated. They called Nelson GarcÃa’s murder a, quote, "isolated" act.
But Honduran activists disagree. On Thursday, thousands converged in Tegucigalpa for the start of a mobilization to demand justice for Berta CÃ¡ceres and an end to what they say is a culture of repression and impunity linked to the Honduran government’s support for corporate interests. Ten buses of indigenous and black Hondurans were reportedly stopped en route to the capital. Activists said some began walking toward Tegucigalpa after being forced to leave the buses.
In the capital, demonstrators walked past the Mexican Embassy to show solidarity with Gustavo Castro Soto, the sole witness to Berta CÃ¡ceres’s murder, who remains inside the embassy. After CÃ¡ceres died in his arms at her home, Castro was interrogated and blocked from leaving Honduras to return to his native Mexico, even though he was accompanied by the Mexican ambassador and shot twice himself. One of Berta CÃ¡ceres’ daughters, Olivia, spoke to Democracy Now! at the mobilization in Tegucigalpa.
OLIVIA ZÃšNIGA CÃCERES: [translated] Today, we are here to demand justice and an explanation for the crime of the death of my mother, Berta CÃ¡ceres. I’m her oldest daughter. And we’ve launched a struggle, a battle at the international level, to exert pressure in order to demand that the aid agencies that fund these multinational corporations that come to plunder, to exterminate our people, to spill our blood in our territories, to create territorial conflicts, that they stop being financed and that they leave our country, because we don’t want international companies that come to finance death, blood and extermination in our communities.
AMY GOODMAN: In a victory for Berta CÃ¡ceres’s supporters on Wednesday, the Dutch development bank FMO and the Finnish development bank Finnfund said they would suspend their funding of the Agua Zarca Dam. In a statement, FMO said it was "shocked" by Nelson GarcÃa’s murder and would halt all activities in Honduras.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., two activists scaled an art installation in front of the U.S. Agency for International Development Monday to oppose the agency’s support for the dam. They unfurled a banner reading "Stop funding murder in Honduras." Honduran activists say eight members of COPINH working to stop the Agua Zarca Dam have been murdered since construction began in 2013. On Wednesday, at another action in Washington, D.C., two activists interrupted a meeting of the Council of the Americas. They targeted the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, James Nealon, saying he has blood on his hands.
PROTESTER 1: He has the blood of Berta CÃ¡ceres! He has the blood of Nelson GarcÃa! The United States has been funding—the United States has been funding [inaudible].
AMY GOODMAN: In New York City on Thursday, hundreds of people, most of them women, gathered outside the Honduran Mission to the United Nations, chanting "Berta didn’t die, she multiplied." Among those who participated was one of Berta CÃ¡ceres’s three daughters, also named Bertha, and a Lenca activist from Berta CÃ¡ceres’s organization COPINH. We’re going to speak with them shortly, but first, in an international broadcast exclusive, we turn to new footage filmed by COPINH members and its supporters in the hours before and days after Berta’s assassination in Honduras. The video begins with Berta CÃ¡ceres herself conducting a training on March 2nd. Only hours later, she would be assassinated.
BERTA CÃCERES: [translated] We have to understand why these projects are so important. The government has all of its institutions at the service of these companies, because they are capable—as in RÃo Blanco, in the defense that we had in Gualcarque—because these businesses are capable of moving antiterrorism commandos, like the Tigre commandos, the military police, the national police, security guards, hit men, etc. It’s not a simple thing. There has to be something else deeper, underneath the surface, that moves all of that power. And we want to understand that better. We have to understand that, because we have the obligation as members of COPINH to have these debates anywhere. And this will help these resistance struggles that you’re fighting there in your communities.
AMY GOODMAN: Only hours later, early in the morning of March 3rd, Berta CÃ¡ceres was murdered in her home in La Esperanza. As the authorities took her body away, her brother Gustavo reacted to her death.
GUSTAVO CÃCERES: [translated] And what I ask of Juan Orlando HernÃ¡ndez, look, here lies a true Lenca, who was never ashamed to be indigenous. What she did was defend her people with her life, and she gave her life. And now we have her here in the back of a truck in a bag, in a plastic bag, like any thing. This can’t happen in our country. What is happening? We demand, we demand, we demand, in the name of my family, my mother, this people, thousands and thousands of us, that they immediately investigate and that they not say things that aren’t true, and that they stick to the truth of what happened to my sister.
AMY GOODMAN: Berta had been a frequent voice on the local community radio station, La Voz Lenca. After her death, fellow activists took to the airwaves to denounce the murder.
ACTIVIST 1: [translated] We have to be alert, compaÃ±eros and compaÃ±eras. And we are not to be brought to our knees. At no point will we surrender. At no point will they sell us. If the dictatorship of Mr. Juan Orlando HernÃ¡ndez Alvarado, if the executives of the company DESA and the hit men, if they are thinking that they are going to stop the struggle of our organization, ladies and gentlemen in power, you are wrong.
PROTESTERS: ¡Justicia! ¡Justicia! ¡Justicia!
AMY GOODMAN: The news of Berta’s assassination spread quickly, and on March 5th, thousands gathered for her funeral in La Esperanza.
PROTESTER 2: [translated] We reject the patriarchal victimization that the Honduran state and the states in the region want to impose on us. We, the women and the people, reject it, together, brothers and sisters. We reject it because we are criminalized women, who are also living under death threats for shattering this power imposed by neoliberalism in our territories.
AMY GOODMAN: People took to the streets across Honduras to denounce her killing and to accuse the state of being complicit in her murder. Outside the local public prosecutor’s office, activists said authorities have repeatedly ignored their reports of death threats.
ACTIVIST 2: [translated] When we come here to the public prosecutor’s office—I’ve been present many times when people have come here to report complaints; I’ve come here to accompany comrades—and the public prosecutor’s office, or the people who work here, say that they are rabble-rousers and that they are against development. What kind of development, my friends? Killing comrades? Is that development?
AMY GOODMAN: One of the activists to denounce Berta’s murder was Miriam Miranda, a leader of the GarÃfuna community in Honduras. The GarÃfuna are descendants of indigenous Caribbean people and African slaves.
MIRIAM MIRANDA: [translated] We want our children to breathe clean air for generations to come. We want to have rivers. We don’t just want to wash our clothes. We also want to be able to drink the water, to be able to have water in our homes! That is the struggle we are fighting. For that, they kill us. For that, they killed Berta CÃ¡ceres.
AMY GOODMAN: One of Berta’s three daughters, Laura, resolved her mother’s fight would continue.
LAURA ZÃšNIGA CÃCERES: [translated] My mother has not been killed. My mother has been planted, and she is born and reborn. And this, which they tried to put out today, this fire that is the struggle of the people, the only thing they did was ignite it more, because they tried to put out the fire with gasoline!
PROTESTERS: ¡Justicia! ¡Justicia! ¡Justicia!