By Stephen Bartlett, Coordinator for Education and Advocacy, Agricultural Missions, Inc. (AMI)
Agricultural Missions, Inc.’s (AMI) team and partners are deeply anguished and enraged by the killing of Bertha Cáceres Flores, Lenca leader from La Esperanza Intibucá, Honduras, where she was shot to death in her home on March 3, 2016. We express our deepest condolences to Bertha´s family, to all the members of COPINH, to close allies of Bertha´s in Honduras and around the world, and to all of us who collectively suffer the tremendous loss of this courageous leader of simple yet extraordinary integrity.
Since 2000, Agricultural Missions (AMI) has been a partner with the Lenca and campesino organization, COPINH, the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras that Bertha co-founded. Our first meeting with Bertha Cáceres was in San Felipe Ecatepec, Chiapas, México at the second gathering of COMPA, the Convergence of Movements of the Peoples of the Americas, a meeting of leaders she helped convene from across the Americas. This meeting was hosted by the Chiapas-based organization of Gustavo Castro Soto in a warm and welcoming indigenous community.
The accomplishments of COPINH and Bertha are enormous. Over the years, Berta skillfully and impressively created a number of organizing spaces. Following the Honduran Coup d’Etat of 2009, Bertha’s leadership, together with other indigenous and campesino leaders including our close partner Miriam Miranda of the Garifuna organization OFRANEH, built a powerful rural coalition of nation-wide resistance to the coup regime. Together they mobilized extraordinarily energetic actions across the territory of Honduras for a return to democratic rule, opposing all manner of privatization schemes aimed at plunder of natural resources and land grabs.
In Bajo Aguán, Bertha became a stalwart ally of campesino organizations fighting for land rights and agrarian reform against ruthless and violent oligarchs. These armed virtual paramilitary forces were responsible for murder of campesinos fighting for land rights to live a dignified life amidst industrial scale Palm Oil monocultures of the elite families of Honduras. In 2012 Bertha and others of the Human Rights Observatory of Bajo Aguan mobilized a large international gathering to document and denounce the more than 100 murders perpetrated by the land owners there in the pursuit of profit from biofuels. Agricultural Missions is proud to have organized the only U.S. delegation o participate in that conference.
Recently and most notable was the temporary shut-down of the DESA hydroelectric dam, backed up by the largest dam building corporation in the world, Chinese-owned Sinohydro, as well as international banks, with support of Honduran officials and security forces. In protest, COPINH members employed a local strategy of organizing a year-long blockade of a rural road in Rio Blanco to prevent the DESA trucks from passing. Members of COPINH and the Lenca communities unanimously raised their voices in 150 public assemblies against the imposition of hydroelectric dam in their territory. As a result, Bertha, COPINH and allies across the world moved mountains and COPINH paid in blood. Most notably, Tomás Garcia, co-founder of COPINH, was shot to death at a rock blockade they organized in protest.
Due to relentless resistance and solidarity, investors eventually began to withdraw and the project was stopped. Bertha Cáceres was awarded the Goldman Environmental Award in 2015 in large part as a tribute to her work and that of COPINH in Rio Blanco. The recent emergence of new investors and the militarization of the Honduran government in the area signaled preparation for another attempt to impose the first of dozens of other mining, logging and dam concessions in Lenca territories. This was accompanied by new death threats against Bertha and COPINH, alerting the world of a renewed threat.
These and so many other organizing efforts were built and fortified by Bertha Cáceres. Bertha was one of the most extraordinary leaders, grassroots organizers and movement builders we have ever known. She knew her life was in danger but her conviction and commitment never faltered, and her actions never ceased. Berta built the biggest possible tent for struggle, with a powerful anti-patriarchy, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist analysis and practice. She included all marginalized people in the struggle and opened people’s minds and hearts to creation of wider unity, informed by the Lenca understanding of our responsibility as humans for the protection of the natural wealth of the world: land, water, biodiversity, and cultural diversity .
A clear path was left for us to continue to walk, starting with the following demands that we join Berta’s family and COPINH in calling for:
- A thorough and independent investigation of Bertha´s murder, by pressuring the Honduran government to sign an agreement with the Inter American Commission of Human Rights for that purpose.
- The cancellation of the concession granted by the Honduran government to the DESA corporation for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project, followed by the cancellation of other illegitimate concessions across Honduras.
- An end to the intimidation and criminalization of COPINH, and their indigenous and campesino allies on the part of the Honduran government, that puts their lives in constant danger and undermines any pretense of democratic process.
- Respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples to prior, full and informed consent to any projects proposed in their territories, under Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization to which Honduras is a signatory, as well as the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
- A cut off of all aid from the US government to the Honduran military and police forces until human rights violations and political killings cease.
- The release of environmentalist Gustavo Castro so he can return to his home in Mexico and his life be protected from the physical and intellectual authors of Bertha´s killing that he witnessed.
Please join us in this work of honoring the harmony that humans are capable of when in right relationship with the land and each other, a way of living that Bertha embodied and fought for until the end.