March 2016 Honduras coup update – Bertha’s life

Berta Caceres multiplied

bertaberta with miriam

Are the the most magical moments when we sit with new or close friends with whom we feel affinity, share with one another our revolutionary dreams and talk about things to plan to bring these to reality? In 2012, Miriam Miranda, a tireless organiser of the indigenous Garífuna (black Honduran) communities, came to Utopía – an organising and workshop and lodging space of the Copinh, a Lenca indigenous organisation co-founded by Berta Caceres. Miriam and Bertha had crossed paths and even coordinated many times before in spaces of resistance, but until then had not found time for this nurturing of one another. This night in 2012, after workshop and everyone sharing dinner, in the misty foggy frosty night of La Esperanza, Intibucá, they talked into the night about their dreams and plans. Miriam remembered Bertha’s serenity and soft voice contrasted with her force, a force sustained by obsession with truth and justice.

Over the years, Miriam and Bertha shared visions, work, ancestral culture, and horizons. They made attacks on the economic, political and cultural model that exploits the great majority of Hondurans. This model sells culture to multinational capital and assassinates in impunity those who bravely oppose.

Miriam was one of many who in the earliest hours of 3/3/16 received a call, with the news that half an hour before midnight, hitmen had forced open the door of Bertha Caceres’ home, fired shots at her and at a friend and comrade from Mexico, Gustavo Castro, who was sleeping at her house. Gustavo was wounded. Bertha was assassinated. Bertha was two days from turning 45. This night, instead of resting, there were many phonecalls between so many people. Words poured out with tears and shock and disbelief and a hollow that wasn’t there some hours before. ‘They killed our Bertita.’

Miriam tells us, ‘Bertha was a symbol of proposals and constructions. Bertha has been a mother and an inspiration not just for the Lenca people, but for many peoples in the world.’ Bertha is a mother of four – three daughters – Olivia, Bertha and Laura, and a son, Salva. Her children who are in their twenties, assert that their mum, Bertha, had not died, she multiplied. They too did not believe their mum would be assassinated, despite constant death threats over the years that they have always known about, and intensified threats in the lead-up. It’s just that she is so well-known.. about the most well-known of activists in Honduras internationally and nationally, now with the Goldman Environmental Award she won just last year. If they would assassinate her, nobody is safe. Everyone knows this, yet in Honduras, the many many people are outraged beyond words, they are not only mobilising and risking it all, they are stepping it up. In each of them Bertha had multiplied. Her struggles are their struggles. They are Bertha. We are all Bertha.

Bertha’s struggles are ours…

Bertha once said, ‘whereever the struggle is, in Honduras,’ (and everywhere really), ‘there is one thing in common “the voracity of the transnational corporations and the ambition of these non-persons who govern us who give away to business the richnesses that belong to everyone”.

For a brief history of Bertha’s life, have a look at this: http://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/berta-caceres/

Recovering indigenous territories. In the final years of her life, a large part of her efforts had been dedicated to accompanying the struggle of the Rio Blanco community against the damming of the Gualcarque river by the Agua Zarca Project of DESA in one of many dam concessions dished out by the Honduran government. This Gualcarque river is sacred and is vital to the survival of the indigenous communities who live around it. Lenca indigenous people are considered custodians of nature, land, and above all, the rivers, which in the lenca tradition, reside in the spirits of women, who are their main guardians. The Rio Blanco community began a blockade to stop company trucks from entering on 1.4.13, and by July that same year, the first political assassination was executed by the military against community leader Tomás García during a community walk-in protest against the dam. The community and Copinh leaders who come to accompany the struggle had from the beginning been heavily politically persecuted and threatened for their participation in organising and supporting this struggle. Bertha had declared many times, if anything were to happen to her, DESA is responsible and the government is too.

Cultural teaching. Bertha facilitated workshops in Lenca communities with families in small classrooms. Using butchers’ papers to note down points, Bertha asked people to brainstorm and name foods, medicines, animals, plants, and other aspects of their indigenous Lenca culture. The paper was full of so many things, and she pointed out to the community, ‘they tell you you are poor, but look at this, you are rich. Only they will try to take these things from us and auction them off. We need to prevent this.’

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Feminist. Bertha always emphasised how important it is to tackle sexism within our own social organisations as a starting point, and how difficult this work is. Some years back, Copinh held a women’s tribunal. The main activity involved encouraging and giving a space for women to speak up against someone who violated their rights, whether it be a partner, a family member, or the police. This was broadcast on community radio for everyone to know the abuse perpetrated by the named men. As a gesture of changing sexist patterns, the male Copinh leaders made a point of doing the cooking and serving to ensure all women present could fully participate in the event.

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Building alternatives. Bertha was a crystal clear voice on false development models and false climate solutions, both always promoted by capitalist interests. ‘We here at Copinh have been speaking up for a long time against these business deals to capture oxygen – to capture carbon, or, the ‘sale of oxygen’, as how people refer to these (carbon trading) projects’. She showed how manipulative they are in calling the death of rivers and the kicking of indigenous peoples off their lands ‘clean energy’. Bertha together with Miriam have been strong advocates for indigenous self-determination, an ongoing uphill battle, in a context in which the state not only does not respect indigenous communities’ decisions, but is complicit in assassinating those opposing, such as Bertha, such as Tomás, such as Nelson, to impose unwanted projects.

Bertha and Miriam also together created spaces for indigenous peoples and broader social movement to organise and articulate their voices. A constituent assembly in 2011, where 1800 indigenous and black Hondurans self organised to congregate con the Carribean coast for several days, discussing and building alternatives from an anticapitalist, antiracist and antipatriarchal vision.

She has always been like a light that shined the way in the middle of the storm which the territories are in. So, no cameras, but Lights! Action! In action there was always a lot of cheek, whether it involves everyone who had walked for days to confront the authorities who want to ignore them but can’t because they have just all taken off their shoes and the smell is stronger than words, or using company wire to build a blockade against the same company. Imagination breaks down limits.

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Who killed her. What would be justice?

Bertha had said many times over many years, if anything happens to her, her family, and people of Copinh involved in the Rio Blanco resistance, DESA and the Honduran state are responsible. It is most disgusting how from the beginning, in its ‘investigations’, the state in asking the sole witness and survivor of the attack Gustavo Castro of Mexico to identify the suspects, was over many hours shown only photos of protests of Copinh. They wanted so much to frame the social movement of killing their own, in order to wipe their hands clean and finish off the social movement itself in one strike. After some questioning by Bertha’s family of how it is, that with the weeks they have passed, that they have not taken time to hear what those who are demanding justice are saying, or of investigating the threats that Bertha had received, that Bertha’s family is currently receiving. So the state prosecution is saying, that they have now gone to collect evidence and made interrogations at DESA offices and confiscated their weapons. Bertha’s daughter, also named Bertha, said don’t let them fool us, they only want us to believe they are investigating properly to calm everyone down. Don’t calm down, because they will never give us the justice we demand. She explained that what she wanted was not for the person or persons who fired the bullets into her Mami to be tried and jailed. That is not the kind of justice her mother taught them to fight for. There are powerful interests and persons who paid for this assassination, planned for this assassination, who continue to target other human rights defenders and activists who they identify as obstacles to their projects. They are the ones who killed Bertha and who need to be stopped from persecuting activists and imposing their profit making ventures upon unwilling communities and rivers. Bertha says, let my mother be the last. No more assassinations of activists. No more projects of death, of hydroelectricity, of mining. Meanwhile, herself, her siblings and all the family and all of Copinh are under death threats and are being followed and anybody could be the next unless this really really is made to stop. Miriam proclaimed, ‘We don’t want no commission, no investigation. We don’t want DESA there; if the State doesn’t close it down, we are going to close it down.’

There are many parties involved. All past and present parties have varying levels of blood on their hands. From the beginning, it was Rio Blanco’s blockade and campaigning that managed to pressure two major parties to withdraw in 2013 – the Chinese state company that builds the biggest dams in the world, Sinohydro, and World Bank’s IFC arm that was going to give a loan to fuel the project. This halted the Agua Zarca (DESA and previously, also Sinohydro) dam project for a time, but building resumed in 2014 on the other side of the river to avoid potential blockades. With recent international pressure following the assassination against Bertha, two more financiers pulled out – FMO of Holland with their US$15 millions and FinnFund of Finland with their US$5 million. DESA still remains, with the support of Central American Bank of Economic Integration CABEI, and Voith Siemens.

The dirt on the blood-stained businesses

  • DESA’s concession involves DESA paying to the Honduran state only US $1445.80 a year for the first fifteen years, increasing to US$2,891.60 a year from the 16th year; a ridiculous amount given the profit it proclaims to make – it charged Copinh for its losses incurred from several weeks of blockading more than US$3 million, meaning it expects an annual profit of over US$20 million, with 0.007% of the profit being paid to the state. DESA is owned by the Atala family – of José Eduardo Atala, and by PEMSA, Mesoamerica Power and Energy. Of PEMSA, no public information is available. Bertha herself sought to see the DESA file a week before she was murdered, without any luck. Some sources say DESA is owned including by Freddy Nazar, one of the most powerful men of Honduras. The Atala family is reported to be amongst the most powerful families in Honduras itself. The Atalas own Ficohsa bank, La Colonia supermarkets, the Motagua Sporting Club, amongst other companies. Its no coincidence that getting finance from the World Bank, and getting concessions they want, are a piece of cake for them. DESAś management committee president David Castillo Mejía was in the Maduro administration the Minister of Governance. DESA’s secretary Roberto Pacheco Reyes is an official of the Honduran military ‘intelligence’. DESA is known for having a large private army of ‘security guards’. They were seen in a blue Ford 150 in Siguatepeque in the turn off for La Esperanza, in the morning, where Bertha was to be assassinated that night. If there are any doubts they considered Bertha Caceres a major enemy to be eliminated, they went out two public email announcements 10 days before Bertha was killed, the messages’ titles were ‘the violent acts’, and ‘falsehoods of Berta Caceres – Copinh’.
  • FMO – Netherlands Development Finance Company, which had invested US$15 millions in Agua Zarca, conceded a loan to Banco Ficohsa of US$60 for ‘clean energy’ projects. FMO also has involvement in Barro Blanco Panamá, where a hydroelectricity project is similarly being imposed on an indigenous community that had rejected the proposal. FMO had previously publicly expressed annoyance about the dam having been suspended because of protests. The protests pressure ended up hitting FMO directly and it from 16/3/16 suspended all its activities in Honduras.
  • Finnfund – Finnish fund for industrial cooperation, initially wrote a public letter ‘condemning’ the assassination of Bertha Cáceres but stated that project was, however, to continue. The response to its complete lack of real regard was such that Finnfund subsequently decided to suspend investment.
  • Central American Bank of Economic Integration CABEI. CABEI, like FMO, is also involved in financing Barro Blanco Panamá, and had expressed being irritated about the dam suspension of Agua Zarca caused by the protests. CABEI, however, refused to even receive the petition of Copinh and from Bertha’s family. CABEI refused to suspend its financing of Agua Zarca of US$24.4 million.
  • Voith Siemens. A German giant contracted by DESA to provide turbines for Agua Zarca project.
  • Others. San Francisco Ojuera council, Santa Bárbara has been involved from 2015. Also involved are CASTOR company, Constructora Cerros de Comayagua, Ficohsa bank, and the natural resources department, SERNA.
  • USAID – Mercado. DESA and USAID signed an agreement of support for the producers of Santa Barbara and Intibuca through a project called MERCADO. It is a welfare project giving food, toys, piñatas and sweets for children and people, to buy people’s support for the DESA project in a context of extreme poverty

The struggle for Bertha Cáceres is closing Agua Zarca forever by forcing out all its players – companies, states, finance, and contractors and making these take responsibility for the crimes against Bertha Cáceres and the Rio Blanco and Copinh communities, which are consequences of their then ongoing collaboration with the project, their choices to ignore implicated human and environmental rights violations. By extension, the closing down of all concessions and extraction – mines, dams, forestry – projects in Lenca and other Honduran territories. The international mission for Bertha Caceres, and her family, also are working to get suspended the 30 million euros of the Euro Justicia finance program of the EU which was to give aid to the Honduran prosecutors department, security secretary and judicial power. The family also campaigns to have suspended the US congress’s US $157.7 million ‘Plan for Prosperity for the Central American Northern Triangle – which Bertha had asserted as a false solution in addressing the mass migration. They are asking that all aid to Honduran state and business security and justice institutions be cancelled or prevented.

There’s no excuse to say ‘it could be anyone’ when lots of business and state representatives heavily invested with the projects they are part of going ahead saw Bertha Cáceres as an obstacle, gave her death threats – ‘stop being an obstacle, or else..’ Threats and attacks that came from state forces, politicians, DESA company representatives were documented in the February update and many other updates against Bertha, including in the Río Blanco community on 20/2/16, a public death threat from the mayor, Raúl Pineda. In the three-month period perior to Bertha’s murder, human rights accompaniers documented 11 threats and attempts by national and local government officials, police, soldiers, Agua Zarca dam project employees and unidentified men, against Bertha and others in struggle.

Berta’s family, the Copinh community and the Rio Blanco community have lived in constant terror since. Copinh buildings watched by unknown persons in intimidation. Rio Blanco community members persecuted and attacked whereever they have gone. Rio Blanco community attacked by gunshots of Agua Zarca security guards when they went to the Gualcarque river. The family being followed by cars and having photos taken of them. When complaints are made of these, the government has not showed concern. The family’s requests for meetings with the president JOH and the general prosecutor are ignored. Nobody is, however, afraid, because they are furious.

A short video about Berta Cáceres on Democracy Now https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQWywN6553Y

Solidarity between indigenous groups

Days after the assassination, indigenous communities from all over Honduras set off to express their love for Bertha, their rage for her murderers, and their commitment in their indigenous struggles and in solidarity between indigenous groups. Some Garífunas made it there early – many other groups were furious in police and military’s attempt to stop them in their paths as they travelled in busloads from long distances to protest in the militarised capital city. Buses were stopped in La Barca, El Durazno, Pito Solo. Buses of Río Blanco were confiscated and their bus drivers threatened with losing their licences if they drove people to Tegucigalpa, the passengers threatened with getting beaten by police– but this community was of course, absolutely determined to go, they walked a long way to the highway. Peoples Pech, Tolupan, Lenca and Chortis were forced off vehicles, had their bags checked, their Ids confiscated, that is, until they heard this went out to the medias and they gave these back. Tolupanes were given death threats in relation to their land struggle. From La Ceiba, buses were sent back to La Ceiba from La Barca, hours away. MADJ members were detained at midnight at the Durazno post going into Tegucigalpa. For all their attempts in stopping buses, many managed the journey somehow, a journey important to many.

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Solidarity in Honduras and internationally

Bertha’s murder and her multiplication is heavily felt and expressed in Honduras and around the world.

In her own town, La Esperanza, people flooded the town to see her body for the last time:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGg8eZ1VCNM

Her organisation, Copinh, called out for solidarity: ‘We know that the best way to respond to this war attack against the people is mobilisation and the construction of alternatives to this system of plunder, from our cosmovisions, ways of life and existence, through the practice of territorial controls and the protection of the nature and of sharing and collective ownership. .. We make a call out, equally, for all the solidarity and offers of support to go to emails of international@copinh.org and solidaridad@copinh.org – statements, letters of solidarity, and actions of solidarity with the Lenca people, copinh, and for info about coordinating the supports they can receive.’

Many protests have taken place and many others continue to:

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Barra de club in Germany dedicates banner to Berta Caceres. followers of St Pauli Football club in the second division of Bundesliga, in Hamburg. Beyond borders. The banners said in Spanish – capitalism kills! Berta Cáceres, present. The struggle continues!

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An action in London and the symbolic rubbish dam on the Honduran embassy:

https://vimeo.com/161497508

‘For Bertha we aren’t going to only cry over her. We are going to keep building links of solidarity and of articulation, converting pain into force and hope with the face to the future.’ ‘we are going to intensify in the struggle to defend territories, life, so peoples are heard and consulted. This is the best homage that we can pay to our Bertha,’ said Miriam, ‘in the name of Bertha Cáceres we have to strengthen the collective and communitarian struggle, reinforce this collective hope, because we believe strongly in to another Honduras and another world is possible.’

Bertha Zuñiga Cáceres, the daughter of Bertha Cáceres, said, ‘Berta will return and she will be millions ‘

CANCION PARA BERTA (Son for Berta)! By two of her close friends who are artists: https://soundcloud.com/claudia-acevedo-5/cancion-para-berta

Let’s wake up! We’re out of time,” she said when she accepted the 2015 Goldman Prize for her role in the community-based struggle to defend the Gualcarque River. “Mother Earth – militarized, enclosed, poisoned, where basic rights are systematically violated – demands that we act.”

Gustavo Castro Soto, sole witness of Bertha’s murder, who was also attempted against: kept for a month as a political prisoner, in fear for his life and of being framed for his friend’s murder

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Bertha Cáceres died in Gustavo Castro’s arms. Gustavo himself was shot twice by the same hitmen but survived. Gustavo was invited by Copinh to speak in a forum that then cancelled because of the murder, a forum called ‘Alternative Energy from the Indigenous Vision.’ Gustavo is Bertha’s friend and comrade. He is of the organisations Other Worlds Chiapas and Friends of the Earth Mexico.

Gustavo was treated as a prisoner and not as a victim. ‘They refused to give me a copy of my testimonies. They threatened me that if I go to Tegucigalpa for my safety, they will send orders of preventative arrest. Or if I leave without its permission that there would be no security accompanying me, that it be on our own accord.’

‘And its that my testimonies are an obstacle for them to accuse whoever they want to throw into prison. I didn’t hear cars arrive or drive off when the assassination took place; the crime scene was modified and altered; the evidences of blood and others left blanks that afterwards can be altered; they went to interrogate most of the people of Copinh and not the suspects who are behind trying to assassinate Berta. It was until today that I had official medical attention for the wounds and while a family in solidarity and another doctor did it to be in solidarity. All the midnight hours of yesterday and until well into the night I could change my blood stenched clothes but they held my bag without returning it to me. .. in the afternoon they offered me something to eat, I did not try foods until today, answering questions, doing test and however many things that occur to them. It seems that they forget that I am a victim and during 48 hours I did not close my eyes, I did not rest, I attended to whatever questioning. But the most beautiful, is that there were always Copinh people outside, in the hall in any moment, accompanying my security, quiet, attentive, marvellous. The human warmth and solidarity is tremendously felt. One feels safer with them than with a thousand police. ‘

Words from Gustavo about Bertha:

I saw Bertha die in my arms but I also saw her heart sown in every struggle that Copinh has carried out, in so many people who have gotten to know her. There is no rain that compares to so many tears shed to her parting, but there is not so much strength that is comparable to the lenca struggle that is faced on the day-to-day, with hand-in-hand, fighting, defending the territory against the huge transnationals. They maintained an unbreakable struggle against over 40 hydroelectric projects; against dozens of mining projects, and a struggle to recover territories in over 50 points of their ancestral region and so beautiful as is the Honduran territory. Copinh marches, walks, protests, recovers and extends its hand in solidarity with the movements. This also was Berta.

Gustavo was emotionally tortured through segregation. ‘It pains me enormously to be shut away in the same city by myself, while thousands congregate a few blocks away to say goodbye to our dear friend Berta. But I want to say I am here with you, crying seas the loss of Bertica but also thanking life for having gotten to know her and having been inspired by her so much.’

Gustavo showed how the Honduran authorities just wanted to accuse Copinh members of murdering their own comrade, ‘once again in the midnight hours, we managed to get to a hotel room and at last to rest a few hours because today we would be leaving for Tegucigalpa. But they came so that I would look at photos and videos to identify the assassin whom I came face to face with, but I was saddened by that all the videos and photos were of marches of Copinh; they wanted me to point to whom of Copinh was the assassin. They did not show me however, the faces of the owners of the companies or their hitmen. In place of two hours, this went for four hours and more questions of the same.’

On 5/3/16, Gustavo Castro had been told that the interrogation process had finished. The Mexican ambassador and consul took him to the airport, but as he approached the migration checkpoint, Honduran police went to grab him – the Mexican ambassador intervened. Honduran authorities stopped him from leaving saying he had to give more testimonies and gave him an order to remain in Honduras for a further 30 days, and at the same time, punished his lawyer Ivania Galeano for having requested a copy of his file by suspending her licence for 15 days. The Honduran government kept coming to interrogate Gustavo at the Mexican embassy where he stayed because he life was in danger everyday that he remained in Honduras.

He was attempted against with two gunshots, but the authorities offered him no medical or psychological assistance. He was rarely allowed any rest. He was denied photocopies of his numerous testimonies. He was made to give testimonies, wait, and give testimonies. His belongings were kept from him. He appealed the 30 days prohibition from leaving honduras, this was rejected on 9/3/16. The La Esperanza judge Victorina Flores seemed intended on charging Gustavo with the murder since he is an obstacle to their plans to finding Copinh members guilty. Even UN human rights defender rapporteur Michel Frost’s urging the Honduran authorities to allow Gustavo to return immediately to Mexico and guarantee his safety was ignored.

Finally, on 31/3/16, due to pressure of social organisations everywhere, Gustavo was allowed to go home, although, with the disclaimer that they might summon him back ‘as new evidence comes up’, despite provisions for him to give further evidence from Mexico.

Copinh organisers arrested, interrogated for Bertha’s murder, released

As Honduran authorties wanted to frame Copinh organisers, they arrested Copinh organiser Aureliano Molina and imprisoned him for two days as a suspect of ‘crime of passion’, despite his having been two hours away from the town on the night of the murder. Two other Copinh leaders Tomás Gómez and Sotero Echeverria were interrogated for days, during which time their requests to be accompanied by their lawyers were rejected. On 15/3/16, Sotero was threatened with arrest.

Then they assassinated another Copinh leader, and persecuted activists in different parts of Honduras all in one day: 15 March 2016

Assassination of Nelson García

nelson garcia copinh march 2016

On 15/3/16, in the morning, the 150 families Río Chiquito community at Río Lindo, Cortés was violently evicted by the invasion of a contingent of 100 cops, 200 military police, 10 soldiers and several investigative agents. In the eviction the agents chased to capture Copinh members. The families lived there since almost 2 years ago, as the territory was given to the women, but the council mayor of last administration disputed this. This day, with the eviction, the wooden houses they built with love was smashed by tractors and machinery. The same machinery was attempting against their gardens and crops, destroying their crops of cassava, sugar cane, plantain, and little corn fields. They destroyed the community’s home made oven and killed their hens.

Nelson García was part of these families who previously recovered this land. He spent all morning helping families of his community move their belongings, and at midday was heading to his mother-in-law’s to have lunch, when just 10 minutes away from the site of eviction, Nelson was assassinated by two hitmen with gunshots. Nelson was in his 30s and is father to five children.

On 31/3/16, prosecutors issued a statement saying that based on investigations by ATIC and DPI they managed to determine with reliable evidence the participation of Didier Enrique Ramírez Acosta ‘El Eléctrico’, member of MS gang, in assassinating copinh leader Nelson García. This says nothing, however, about who planned and paid for this murder, of course.

The sentencing of David Romero

On 15/3/16, David Romero, director of Radio and TV Globo, who had driven the process of uncovering the massive IHSS scandal of the National Party stealing from the workers’ health institution through ghost companies, compromising the health of many, was on this day sentenced to 10 years prison for the ‘crimes of defamation against Sonia Gálvez de Cuellar’, his response was, ‘we are not going to get tired out as long as we have the power of the word, we are going to keep speaking up. We will spell out those corrupt with their full names. We will appeal.. I have not committed any crime.’

David Romero Radio Globo Honduras

Farmers activist and his family raided and captured

In the midnight hours on 15/3/16, without a court order, police and military barged into and raided the home of Aguan Farmers United Movement MUCA president José Angel Flores. They arrested and took to Tocoa police station José and two other male relatives of his under the presumption of weapons possession. All three were later released. They are holders of Inter American Commission of Human Rights protection measures for the risk they run related to their farmers’ activism.

Hitmen attacked and wounded Via Campesina accountant

On 15/3/16, three hitmen broke into the office of La Via Campesina, and firegun wounded accountaint Cristián Alegría, who is also the nephew of well known leader Rafael Alegría. Police said he was shot in having resisted ‘robbery’. Hitmen paid to attack activists are trained to make their attacks look like robberies.

Farmer and human rights defender arrested

On 15/3/16, at 5am in Bajo Aguan, police raided her house and captured Orbelina Flores, her son Arly Gredys Flores and her daughter-in-law Deysi Noemi Madrid and her grandson aged 3 who needed special care. They were released later but, when she went to visit relatives, Orbelina was again arrested and sent to the prosecutors, who tell her its about ‘questions of land’. There is to date no more information from the authorities, and it is not known if she has been released since or continued in custody.

Other persecution in March 2016

Persecution against the farmers of Bajo Aguan

On 16/3/16, Martha Ligia Arnold, president of the Bajo Aguan Permanent Human Rights Observatory OPDHBA, who had been granted IACHR protection measures because of being persecuted, received a letter from the Local Coordinator of the Bajo Aguan Violent Deaths Unit (UMVIBA: a specialist unit of the prosecutors department), Javier Guzmán. The letter advised Martha of the authorities’ decision to not pass onto Martha any information which she requests as a OPDBA representative about any progress in the cases of investigation that UMVIBA manages, because the authorities consider Martha to have connection with a group of delinquents that operates in the province. The letter said that OPDBA leaks too much information, and that the “delinquents” mentioned are involved in crimes that UMVIBA investigates, saying that for those reasons they feel there is a conflict to continue sharing information as before, that now they will only pass on some written statistics, but no more than that. In categorising her and OPDBA in this way, the state is stigmatising defenders organised in the OPDBA. Martha has, already, in the past, faced persecution, threats to her and her children and smear campaigns by the state.

On 20/3/16, Vitalino Alvarez, spokesperson of the Bajo Aguan Agrarian Platform, had to flee Honduras because of persecution and constant threats against his life and those of his children. He has IACHR protection measures.

On 12/3/16, at 1,30pm Jaime Cabrera, coordinator of the Bajo Aguan Agrarian Platform was leaving a meeting and driving home to Trujillo on a motorbike, when he was followed by a red car with double cabin and polarised windows and no numberplates. Days before, there were two motorbikes circling around his home, intimidating and watching. He has IACHR protection measures.

Youths of Guadalupe Carney, members of Movimiento Campesino de Aguan MCA had entered this March to recover lands near its community that belong to MCA. They have asked people to be alert to likely repression and assassinations..

Death threats against activist and community radio DJ

On 20/3/16, energetic activist Wilmer Ramos of Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia and community radio DJ for Radio Dignidad received new death threats in this terrifying context. Police has made zero progress on investigating threats against Wilmer. MADJ holds Honduran police and state responsible for whatever may happen to Wilmer.

Death threats against MILPA Lenca organisers

On 17/3/16, well known national party representative Segundo Castillo came to the house of MILPA (Movimiento Indígena Lenca por La Paz) activist Juan Vásquez, at a time when Juan was out working. Segundo retreated to threatening Juan’s brother, Juan’s spouse, and Juan’s children, for having opposed the Simpinula hydroelectricity dam project and other council plans. Segundo argued with Juan’s spouse, claiming that the national party has given floors and roofs that the council had given and that they were not grateful for what the state had given to the poor… Juan came home in this moment and Juan confronted Segundo for having come to Juan’s home drunk. Segundo got angry and left to his car and said that he was going to get a pistol to kill Juan. One of Juan’s relatives said, “the death threat to my brother Juan Vásquez , to my sister in law and to me, is because we don’t want the territorial manipulation by the state, but the Santa María mayor, Gabino Argueta, I don’t know what he had done to get World Bank funds to carry out the electricity projects in our community. They offered a project for us but now they want that we hand over our lands for review in exchange for putting electricity in our houses; but we are against this; but now the mayor comes and he says to us: I will take from you all help you get from council and projects.’

In Santa Elena, La Paz, 20 Lenca leaders had been assassinated just in 2015 by including party strongmen, by hitmen sent by mayors and land owners and the national party management committee, imposing the damming of rivers.

Comayagua eviction

In Valle de Humuya, Villa de San Antonio, Comayagua, on 9/3/16, the farmers group that had been fighting for their right to this land permanently for the last 8 years were violently evicted by police and military police, in the presence of human rights representatives, after having received threats of this eviction earlier in the week. The contingent destroyed their crops, homes and fences forcing them to flee to avoid being illegally arrested, leaving them in complete misery and left to luck. These displaced farmers with nowhere to go are organised with CNTC, the rural workers’ national federation.

UNAH eviction

On 2/3/16, sent by UNAH and by court, police and soldiers violently evicted families who have lived near the UNAH Valle de Sula campus since half a century ago.

Student watched and followed

On 28/2/16, UNAH sociology student Moisés Caceres, who had suffered a long chain of repression by UNAH authorities and in court for his activism, complained of being followed and watched. It was to such a degree that an unknown man came to look for him in his neighbourhood and somebody answered him, saying, ‘they already killed this one off’.

Protection measures

Protection measures don’t impede assassination of social activists in Honduras. On 16/2/16, IACHR (Inter American Commission of Human Rights) reported that even with protection measures, at least 14 people granted with such measures had been assassinated by the end of the year.. Bertha Cáceres also had these measures. She had requested the police the patrol the area, and to assign a fund for her to choose someone she trusted as a security guard, instead of accepting a police. They had asked for technology for human rights organisations to use. The state had not responded to that, they could only say that they offered her a police and she refused, and that she didn’t tell them she changed address – who would?

Social leader arrested

On 22/3/16, in Ocotepeque, a long-time social activist Oscar Obdulio Mejía was arrested by police. They handcuffed him and read him his rights in the Lucerna police cells, without telling him why he was arrested. Known as Oscarito, he is a survivor in the 80s of persecution, having always been an activist, and whose commitment and conviction in defence of life had sustained his social and political labour.

Lgbti activist arrested

On 20/3/16, in the midnight hours, ‘Vicky’ Arely Victoria Gómez Cruz, defender of lgbti rights, was arrested when she was working in defence of a woman who was arbitrarily arrested by police. The police ordered Vicky’s arrest ‘for going around demanding things that couldn’t be given’ . Police and other prisoners laughed at Vicky, at her gender. They said to Vicky that Vicky were nobody, nor certified lawyer, when she introduced herself as a human rights defender. She was not released until 12 midday. This is amidst many acts of harassment, threats, persecution, for their labour as a defender and for reasons of hate for her sexuality. Vicky is a trans woman, human rights defender and activist in different organisations nationally and internationally. In 2013 she was attacked by several men at Tegucigalpa city centre, where they snatched from her even her high heels. She was forced to flee Honduras, having come back she is again a victim of physical and verbal attacks.

Activist killed by lack of healthcare

On 25/3/16, the secretary general of the Farm Workers National Federation CNTC, Magdalena Morales, died of cancer, after not having been treated with dignity and not having received necessarily medicines for chemotherapy. At the same time that she faced cancer, as an activist, she was persecuted by authorities accused of land usurpation – her crime was supporting with food and basic needs materials hundreds of farming families organised in ADCP farmers group who occupied land that Azunosa of SABMiller, a British South African company, illegally occupied. She said, ‘for these multinationals, solidarity is a crime.’ She was arrested in July 2013 and had a hearing in August. She was very selfless and did not complain about her health. She had to run a lot because of the persecution. She had to distance herself from her children so they were not persecuted while she continued activism.

News briefs from March 2016

  • Newly passed ‘Law of Secrets’ allows politicians and business people to cover up about the abuse of natural and public resources in Honduras. It facilitates for topics, minutes, contracts, documents, information, data and objects to be classified using the excuse that sharing the information can put at risk security, national defence, and the achievement of national objectives.
  • In relation to the IHSS scandal where the National Party stole massive sums of money from health institution for their electoral campaign, National party president Gladis López said it had already deposited IOU notes worth 4 million lempiras (less than half a million US dollars) in case they are found guilty to pay out. Recap: US$350 millions were stolen by the National party passing through ghost companies, state officials and politicians
  • Another poisoned river causing serious illnesses in people who use this water supply. This time it is Santa Rosa de Copán city, where almost 100,000 live on the water supply from the Higuito and Lara Rivers which is contaminated with cianite (heavy metals), left by different mining companies including Minosa. Biodiversity has also been hugely affected. Complaints about this date back to 2002.
  • President JOH abruptly decided to close the DEI – Executive Department of Revenue, in a run of privatisations. DEI is a taxation department created in 1994. Now, 1500 staff have been dismissed when they turned up to work and found the building militarised – having been warned before this only by the council cleaners, after the December announcement of a new and modern tax system with new staff that will be more efficient. The privatisations have the pattern of massive dismissals, destruction of union organisations and making public private investments, and are part of a plan pushed by IMF.
  • Testimonies from anonymous deserters reveal that there is a ‘School of Education for Delinquents’ run by foreign educators, with knowledge, and institutional and financial backing from the Honduran government, in which 1000s of Honduran youths are trained to be converted into infiltrators, agents of social penetration, and assassins with ability to make political crimes look like common ones. A number of recent crimes fit in this criteria, with political crimes dressed as crimes of robbery, gangs, and ‘passion’.
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One thought on “March 2016 Honduras coup update – Bertha’s life

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