In my first couple of months in Nicaragua I have spent time in the Northern hills. To the North I could see rolling mountains in neighbouring Honduras. But while Nicaragua today is peaceful, our next-door country is sadly wracked by violence, some of which comes from efforts to protect the land and the environment. Today’s blog is a Guest Blog by my friend Mary Durran.
CHRONICAL OF A DEATH FORETOLD
Berta Cáceres had received so many death threats, due to her opposition to the Agua Zarca dam, that she knew it was only a matter of time. Her security routine was elaborate, rotating around the houses of friends. Not even her father knew her whereabouts. But it was not enough. Berta was murdered on 3rd March by unknown assassins.
I met Bertha at a conference in Tegucigalpa in 2013. She spoke with passion. Reeling from the murder of Rigoberto Hernandez, a grassroots leader who had opposed an iron ore mine in western Honduras, and whose body was found with his tongue ripped out, Berta said then that she was prepared to fight until the end.
Berta was a leader of the Lenca indigenous people of Honduras, who make up about 8% of the Honduran population. The Lenca mainly live in poverty, and those who do not have land have to work precarious odd-jobs for dollar-a-day wages. They need land to grow food and preserve their lifestyle and dignity.
Berta was a pioneer in the movement to defend the ancestral lands of the Lenca from mega projects funded by international capital. Her murder has been interpreted as a sombre warning for other defenders.
“Her murder shows the vulnerability of people and organizations struggling for human rights and the defence of natural resources, and against the handover of our national sovereignty,” said Fr. Ismael Moreno, director of the Fundacion ERIC.
Honduras was identified as the most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental defender, with the highest murder rate of environmental activists, by Global Witness last year. Since 1998 Honduras has opened up to international mining companies, introducing legislation that puts the interests of the investor before those of communities and the state. Such policies intensified after the 2009 coup d’etat and the subsequent government which came to power in fraudulent elections.
Honduras has also received funds from international climate funds which seek to promote clean energy. Investments include hydro-electric projects, often on the lands of indigenous peoples, or poor peasant communities. But in most cases, the Honduran government has failed to consult the indigenous before launching projects on their lands. Neither does the government offer any relocation packages to those whose lands are grabbed, or those who water supplies are ruined by the dams.
The life and struggle of Berta Caceres will not be in vain. In death, she is even bigger than she was in life. The Dutch FMO bank that was funding the Agua Zarca dam has suspended operations. Berta has already become an icon for women leaders and those who struggle to protect the environment. As Honduran protesters chanted at her funeral, Berta vive! La lucha sigue!. Berta lives, the struggle continues!
Guest Blog by Mary Durran. Mary and I worked in the 1980’s for the Central America Human Rights Committees. See https://durranmary.wordpress.com/ for more news on Latin American issues.
Informacion en español – https://www.oxfam.org/es/sala-de-prensa/notas-de-prensa/2016-03-04/oxfam-rinde-homenaje-la-defensora-de-los-derechos-humanos?utm_source=oxf.am&utm_medium=Zh7j&utm_content=redirect
Photos from Radio Progreso, Honduras