With Rising Human Rights Violations in Honduras, Activists Demand Suspension of U.S. Military Aid

Posted May 11, 2016

MP3 Interview with Alberto Saldamando, counsel to the Indigenous Environmental Network, conducted by Scott Harris


The March 3 assassination of Honduran indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, winner of the prestigious 2015 Goldman environmental prize, triggered widespread protests in the Central American country and across the globe. Cáceres, who was murdered in her home, led her indigenous Lenca people and the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH, that actively opposed the construction of the proposed Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque river, an area considered sacred by the Lenca. She had previously reported receiving numerous death threats from police, soldiers and local landowners because of her activism. On March 15, her colleague Nelson Garcia of COPINH was also murdered. A growing number of social justice activists, environmentalists and journalists have been killed or have disappeared since the 2009 coup in Honduras.

On May 2, the Honduran government arrested five men whom they say are linked to Caceres' murder. Two of those charged are employed by Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA), the construction firm engaged in a land dispute with the Lenca people over four controversial dam projects. One suspect is a retired Honduran Armed Forces lieutenant and military intelligence specialist and another was a Honduran Army special-forces veteran.

A delegation of indigenous rights activists from the U.S. traveled to Honduras May 2-4 and met with representatives of the U.S. Embassy. Among other issues, delegates asked the embassy staff to support Berta Cáceres' family and the activist community demand that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights conduct an independent investigation into Cáceres' assassination and that all security and military aid from the U.S. government to Honduras be suspended until the massive violations of human rights in Honduras ends. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Alberto Saldamando, counsel to the Indigenous Environmental Network, who participated in the Honduran delegation. Here, he recounts his meeting with U.S. officials and the concerns expressed by the Hondurans he met. [Rush transcript]

ALBERTO SALDAMANDO: The meeting with the embassy was not all that satisfactory, I'm sure they were all meeting good people. But you know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and there is this road to hell going on now in Honduras. While we were there and visiting the family of Berta Cáceras, it was announced that they had arrested an Army major, an (unintelligible) director, and another director of the DESA, the hydroelectric company that Berta was struggling against, and the trigger man, for the assassination. But many people, all the people we talked to, believe that her assassination goes higher and goes into the highest reaches of government and the military. And until those people are prosecuted, there's not going to be any justice for Berta Cáceres. And that's what the COPINH people were demonstrating about, that it can't stop where it is now. There's another level of intellectual authors of that crime that have to be arrested and prosecuted. And that's what they want and that's what they're expecting.

The U.S. has been involved in the investigation, some of the FBI people and their FBI-trained people have been conducting the investigation that led to these arrests. Well, COPINH and the civil society organizations are demanding that there be an independent investigation conducted by the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights. They have credibility. They have the investigators. They've done this before. They know how to investigate. But the United States says, "Well, the governmental investigation is adequate. It's been doing the job." But really, it's at best, a problem of perceptions. But if the people perceive that this investigation is not going to reach those most responsible for her murder, whether or not it's true, it's important that the United States at least, in the interests of the United States, that they not be seen as cooking this investigation. Whether or not it's true, the perception that the United States is leading this investigation is out there, the perception is that the United States will inhibit a complete and thorough investigation of this murder.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Now that you're back from the Honduras, what kind of pressure are you and members of your organization going to exert on the government to suspend U.S. military and security aid to the government of Honduras until the human rights situation is rectified there, and certainly topping that list is your advocacy and demand for an independent investigation of Berta Cáceres murder?

ALBERTO SALDAMANDO: So the one thing that we are doing actually is really trying to tell the story of the Honduras to other indigenous peoples and other elements of civil society that are receptive to this. In the long run, we'll be writing letters to our congressional representatives about the dire situation (unintelligible) in Honduras and ask them to suspend this aid. In fact, there's a call from the civil society organizations we visited that all aid to Honduras is pending a resolution of all these human rights violations. We do plan to continue in our work with solidarity with the Honduran indigenous people and the (unintelligible) civil society. We need the whole of civil society in the United States as well, to take up the call. We need the participation of all, everyone, whether they're an organization or on their own, to demonstrate the solidarity with the people of Honduras and to contact their congressmen and representatives, senators to assure that military aid and military assistance, so-called security assistance not be given, but also that the aid we do give doesn't go to the corrupt officials and local officials in Honduras, that are really doing a gigantic land grab of indigenous lands and using these murders and these extrajudicial executions to intimidate the people and shut them up. Because a lot of the people we spoke to were frightened; they were scared. There really is a tremendous amount of fear in Honduras on the part of the social activists. It doesn't keep them from acting. But, really, that is a terrible condition to be in. A lot of activists, grassroots activists are being threatened with not only death, but also imprisonment, but being harassed. So we need people to demonstrate their solidarity with the indigenous people of Honduras and under civil society. What we can do is try to promote that solidarity, but I think your listeners as well might take an interest so that all these voices are heard.

Learn more about the Indigenous Environmental Network at ienearth.org.

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