You are here

COPINH

"Berta Didn't Die, She Multiplied": Indigenous Organizers in Honduras Call for Radical Transformation

Pascuala Vásquez interviewed by Beverly Bell - TruthOut, May 15, 2017; image by Beverly Bell.

"Berta didn't die. She multiplied," is an oft-heard chant in Honduras. The significance of the life of Berta Cáceres, warrior for indigenous peoples and the sanctity of Mother Earth, continues growing. So, too, does the significance of her assassination in March 2016, as more evidence emerges about the role of the US and Honduran governments, and the internationally financed dam company DESA, in the crime.

Also multiplying around the world is hope and action inspired by Cáceres' message that the world needs radical, structural transformation. As she said regarding the fight against capitalism, racism, and patriarchy when she received a Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, "Wake up! Wake up, humanity! There is no time left."

The organization Cáceres founded 24 years ago, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), continues multiplying, too. About a dozen new Lenca communities have recently joined the 200-plus communities already united in protecting their territories, waters, communities, and rights from the government and multinational corporations.

Cáceres' family and Gustavo Castro Soto are now compiling evidence for their joint trial against the Honduran government. Castro, director of Friends of the Earth-Mexico, was on a brief visit from Chiapas when he was wounded twice and almost killed in the assault in Cáceres' home. He then spent a month illegally detained in Honduras, where he was tortured. The sole witness to Cáceres' death, Castro told us, "If I hadn't been there that night, it would have been the perfect assassination." As it is, the trial threatens to blow the lid off of impunity the Honduran and US states and transnational capital.

The Honduran government has blocked the plaintiffs' efforts for a fair and transparent trial, denying them access to information, disappearing six months of evidence they had filed with the court, and refusing the Inter-American Court of Human Rights' offer to help.  While eight men have been arrested as suspects -- including one in Castro's home town in Mexico - the intellectual authors of the crime continue to walk freely.

The Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act, introduced into the US Congress this past March, calls for the US to cut off security assistance to the government of Honduras until it makes improvements in human rights. (If your congressperson isn't yet on board, please urge him or her to sponsor the bill.)

Below, Pascuala Vásquez tells more about the Lenca fight, and offers insights into a little publicized part of COPINH and Cáceres' work: reliance on Lenca culture and spirituality to keep the movement strong and the Earth whole. A 75-year-old farmer and organizer, Vásquez is also COPINH's spiritual leader, head of COPINH's Lenca Cultural Committee, and member of the Council of Elders.

Berta Is Dead, But The Movement She Started Lives

By Beverly Bell - Global Justice Ecology Project, April 5, 2017

The Convergence of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) has defied all efforts over the past year, by the Honduran government and the DESA dam company, to destroy it. This past Monday, March 27, 24 years after Berta Cáceres cofounded the Lenca indigenous organization, COPINH hosted an anniversary celebration of rebellion and recommitment.

About 150 people from throughout Honduras and at least five other countries joined for a Lenca ceremony; a forum on challenges and advances; a concert; a film festival; and a humble feast of roasted pig, rice, tortillas, and birthday cake. The event closed late at night with an open-air performance of “Ancestras”, a new play by the Teatro Taller Tegucigalpa (Tegucigalpa Theater Workshop) about COPINH’s fight to defend the Gualcarque River, and structural injustice by the government and oligarchy.

COPNH has not only survived, it continues to serve as a source of inspiration for indigenous and other movements throughout Honduras and the world. As with Berta Cáceres’ life work, COPINH’s goes far beyond environmental defense. Its aim is to transform the political, economic, and environmental landscape of Honduras, and – in conjunction with movements elsewhere – of the world.

Gustavo Castro Soto, the director of Friends of the Earth-Mexico and Otros Mundos who was shot and almost killed in Cáceres’ home the night she was assassinated, said, “The death of Berta has not been the death of the struggle. On the contrary, it’s been a wake-up call.”

Environmental activists in Honduras refuse to submit

By Michael Phoenix - ROARMag, March 3, 2017

Let us wake up! Let us wake up, humankind! We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction.

These are the words of Berta Cáceres, the community organizer, human rights defender, environmental activist, indigenous Lenca woman, leader and rebel who was shot dead one year ago, on March 3, 2016, by unidentified gunmen at her home in La Esperanza, the capital city of the department of Intibucá in southwestern Honduras.

Berta was a co-founder of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), an organization fighting neoliberalism and patriarchy in Honduras and working for respect of human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples in particular. She was a long-term opponent of internationally funded exploitative development projects in indigenous territories in Honduras, such as the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, set to be built on the territory of the Lenca people in the Río Blanco.

Berta’s name had been on a hit-list of social and environmental activists given to a US-trained specialist military unit in Honduras months before her death. Recent information leaked from court proceedings suggest a leading role was played in her assassination by Honduran military intelligence services.

The killing of the celebrated indigenous activist led to widespread and sustained coverage in the Honduran, Central American and international media. In its aftermath, eight people have been arrested, including employees of the Agua Zarca dam and current and ex-military officers. However, no convictions have materialized and the intellectual authors of her assassination remain untouched.

Serious failings in the investigative process, including the failure to call on the sole eyewitness of the killing to identify suspects, have held back any movement towards justice for Berta’s family, community or her colleagues in COPINH. Similarly, the widespread outcry of indignation at Berta’s murder has not resulted in any steps towards greater protection for the indigenous peoples in Honduras who are fighting for their right to exist and the safeguarding of the open, communal, sufficient and balanced nature of our environment.