One year after the assassination of Honduran Indigenous leader Berta Caceres, human rights organizations and Indigenous communities continue to demand justice in the case, while the international branch of the struggle pressures to an end of U.S. funding for police and military forces accused of human rights abuses in the Central American country.
Caceres' family sent a letter Thursday to U.S. Representative Norma Torres to ask for her support for the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which was reintroduced the same day to the House of Representatives after stalling without adequate support since last year. The bill seeks the suspension of Washington's security aid to Honduras until the country fulfills more rigorous human rights conditions — including an end to abuses by the police and military and justice in cases like Berta Caceres' murder.
"It is increasingly clear that the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez is unwilling to act decisively to stop the killings of social activists in Honduras and to conduct honest and thorough investigations of killings and attacks," Caceres' family members state in the letter to Torres, urging her to "stand with" them and with Honduras. "In addition, the government has consistently failed to respect basic indigenous land rights, as it is required to do under its international treaty obligations."
The original U.S. bill inspired by Caceres' murder paints a grim picture of Honduras' grave human rights situation, including the lack of justice in cases like Caceres' murder. “Impunity remains a serious problem, with prosecution in cases of military and police officials charged with human rights violations moving too slowly or remaining inconclusive,” it states, adding that the U.S. State Department itself reported in 2015 problems of “corruption, intimidation, and institutional weakness of the justice system" in Honduras.
Caceres' family addressed the letter to Torres to ramp up individual pressure for support of the bill. Torres, the first and only Central American in Congress and the founder of the bipartisan Central American Caucus, has faced criticism for aligning herself with the Honduran government, backing Washington's controversial Alliance for Prosperity security aid package for Central America's Northern Triangle and for refusing to support the Berta Caceres bill.
"We believe that your support for the Berta Caceres Human Rights Act will further strengthen your standing as an advocate for Central Americans and human rights, both in the U.S. and Honduras," the family wrote in its letter to Torres, imploring her endorsement of the bill.
Caceres' family also highlighted in the letter the involvement of active and former members of the military — including suspects trained at the infamous U.S. School of the Americas — in her murder, underlining the urgent need for more rigorous conditions on security aid to Honduran state forces. A former member of the military police in Honduras revealed to the Guardian that her name had been at the top of a "hit list" that a U.S.-trained unit received.
"A government that fails to protect its citizens and whose security forces are implicated in attacks and killings of activists should not be receiving security funding and training from the U.S. government," the letter stressed, adding that Caceres' murder is only one example among scores of assassinations, attacks and other forms of intimidation targeting activists in the country.
According to a recent report by the international rights organization Global Witness, 120 land and environmental defenders have been killed in Honduras since 2010 after an increase in state-sanctioned abuses in the wake of the 2009 U.S.-backed military coup.
Meanwhile, in Honduras, members of the organization that Caceres founded — the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras or COPINH — held a march Wednesday in the capital city Tegucigalpa demanding justice one year after her death.
They blasted Honduran authorities over the fact that, to this day, the motive for her assassination has not been identified and perpetrators in the killing not brought to justice. Demonstrators with banners shouted slogans demanding that authorities arrest the masterminds behind Caceres' murder.
Caceres rose to international prominence for leading the Indigenous Lenca people in a struggle against a controversial hydroelectric dam project in the community of Rio Blanco that was put in motion without consent from local communities. She was also a key leader in the post-coup resistance movement that demanded a constituent assembly to rewrite the Honduran Constitution.
For her environmental and land defense work, she was awarded the prestigious 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, while at the same time suffering dozens of death threats and other forms of harassment. Berta Caceres was shot dead just before midnight March 2, 2016, when gunmen stormed her house and attacked her.
Caceres’ family claim that the Honduran company behind the hydroelectric project she fought against, Desarrollos Energeticos or DESA, and the Honduran government hired contract killers to murder her and other activists.
Her family and fellow activists insists that her legacy will continue to inspire a movement for rights and justice.
In a statement ahead of the anniversary of her murder, Caceres' COPINH reiterated calls for justice and an end to unwanted corporate projects on Indigenous land and vowed to forge on in the struggle that Caceres championed in the name of a "just society where life is respected."
"One year after Berta's murder, she continues teaching us that ideas cannot be killed and the processes of the people cannot be stopped," the organization said. "May she continue to be present and our task continue with her legacy of resistance and struggle against injustice."