World

Hundreds of Scholars Demand Justice for Assassinated Honduran Indigenous Activist Berta Cáceres

Latin America experts penned an open letter demanding an end to human rights violations and impunity.

Berta Cáceres
Photo Credit: Goldman Environmental Foundation

The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous organizations of Honduras (COPINH) is calling for “national and international solidarity to fight back” after two of its leaders, general coordinator Berta Cáceres and member Nelson Garcia, were assassinated this month.

Nearly 1,000 Latin America scholars are heeding that request, with an open letter demanding that the U.S. government withdraw its support for the Honduran military and police, “institutions that have been responsible for human rights violations since the coup d’état of 2009.”

Addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry, the missive notes that the country “has one of the highest rates of homicides, feminicides, and LGBTI murders in the world."

“In spite of this egregious situation, the U.S. government continues to fund a government that has unapologetically disregarded the right to life of its citizens,” continues the statement, whose international signatories include leading academic experts such as Dario A. Euraque, Barry Carr and Aviva Chomsky.

The letter comes amid mounting global outrage at the escalation of violent repression in Honduras, including the recent detention of Jose Angel Flores, president of the Unified Peasant Movement of the Aguan. Many are demanding that the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton account for their roles in backing the coup, discussed in Clinton’s memoir and released emails.

“I really think Clinton should answer for her role in the Honduras coup because it was so egregious and it was not presidential,” Suyapa Portillo, an assistant professor at Pitzer College who played a key role in organizing the joint letter, told AlterNet. “It came from someone with a great conceit towards Latin America.”

“It is shocking that the U.S. state department would enforce Cold War tactics in Central America in the 21st century,” Portillo continued, asking, “If Clinton becomes president, will we see a resurgence of Cold War tactics in Latin America?"

According to the scholars, Berta Cáceres is the “101st environmental justice organizer to be killed in Honduras since 2010." Cáceres was a prominent opponent of the coup and organizer against the Agua Zarca Hydroelectricity Generating Project in the Gualcarque River basin, whose construction is fraught with human rights abuses and the expropriation of indigenous Lenca territory.

Cáceres’ assassination “shocked” the academic community, said Portillo, explaining that the scholars who led the initiative all hail from Central American countries. “Berta’s murder was so significant to Central America, to anyone who works on gender, to anyone who studies indigenous people.”

Speaking recently at a thousands-strong mobilization in Tegucigalpa to demand an end to repression and impunity, Berta Cáceres’ daughter Olivia told Democracy Now, “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.”

Meanwhile, the scholars warn, many others are in danger, including the “the sole witness of Berta’s murder, Gustavo Castro Soto, a Mexican citizen and human rights worker.”

The open letter issues numerous demands, including the call for Congress and the state department to “cease aid to Honduras via the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle until the Honduran government addresses its poor human rights records, demonstrates capacity to prosecute perpetrators, and guarantees the rights of all people, especially indigenous, Afrodescendant and LGBTI people, women and children.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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