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A Machete for Your Thoughts: Free Trade, Hillary Style

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Berta Caceres, a indigenous environmental activist, who was murdered in Honduras.
Berta Caceres, a indigenous environmental activist, who was murdered in Honduras.
(Image by (photo: Goldman Environmental Prize))
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An interview with Beverly Bell, founder of Other Worlds

I've heard it said more than once, since the close-range murder of indigenous leader Berta Caceres, that it's time for Hillary Clinton to apologize to the people of Honduras for supporting and sustaining an anti-democratic process that has turned that country into the murder capital of the world. Meanwhile, as Clinton campaigns, touting her expansive foreign policy record, the violence in Honduras continues unabated.

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In the following interview with Beverly Bell, founder of Other Worlds and a close friend and associate of the murdered Caceres, we learn that anyone on the ground in Honduras who opposes the 10-plus US military bases there, and who is standing against turning the country into one big free-trade zone, is putting himself in grave danger. That point was made very clear with the murder of Nelson Garcia, a second environmental leader from the same organization as Caceres.

Bell herself, who has been in Honduras for the last two weeks, says she was inches away from being killed by machete during an anti-government protest last Friday in Honduras, when her potential killers realized she was an American and lowered their machetes. "I went to get a bottle of water and I somehow ended up on the wrong side of enemy lines," Bell said. "Everything shifted very fast, and two different men within moments came up to me, machetes raised sharply over my head, just started to bring them down, and then I guess seeing that I was a gringa, thought better of it and stopped."

Dennis Bernstein: Good to hear your voice, Bev ... Where exactly are you?

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Beverly Bell: I'm speaking with you, Dennis, from the town of La Esperanza, in Honduras. La Esperanza is where Berta Caceres, the global movement leader who was slain on March 2nd of this year, was born, where she lived, and where she died. It is also the headquarters of the organization that she founded, The Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). I am here because my organization, Other Worlds, and the Center for Economic Justice that I ran prior to that, have worked closely with Berta, and with COPINH, for 18 years now, in quest of sovereignty and rights for indigenous peoples of Honduras and elsewhere. We have been working for the protection of their lands and waters, their rights to control those riches of nature, and also for a very profound global transformation of economics, politics, and society.

DB: When did you arrive there, and why did you decide to go down at this time?

Bell: I came down here a week ago at the request of COPINH to help out because they lost their leader, Berta Caceres, who not only was a moral and political powerhouse, but also was like a 100-woman work operation. So the organization is in need of a lot of support, mainly to mobilize international people to get at the root cause of their problems, many of which lie with an unelected and dictatorial government here with the backing of the U.S. military -- and also the backing of international institutions, including even possibly U.S.A.I.D. in dams and other operations that are taking place on Lenka land here. COPINH is an organization of Lenka indigenous people.

But the most immediate reason for my arriving when I did was to attend a magnificent international gathering called the Convergence of the Berta Viva People, and that is the peoples of the world, indigenous and otherwise, who identify so profoundly with this extraordinary leader. There were approximately 1,500 people from 22 nations at this three-day gathering.

DB: Two other things that relate to the murder of Berta unfolded before you arrived. One is that her friend, the eyewitness to the murder, was by grace and a lot of organizing gotten out of the country, escaping the death squads in Honduras, and in the same context, there was another murder.

Bell: That's right. Gustavo Castro is to the environment and its defense, in Mexico, what Berta Caceres was, and I will say is, even though she is dead in the body. And he was at her home the night of her murder. He said that the hit men thought that she was alone, and were very surprised to see him. They did shoot him twice. One of the bullets went very, very close to his skull, but fortunately hit his ear instead. The other hit his hand. He then went through the most horrific experience of 26 days of either being directly held by the Honduran government, supposedly for questioning, but through the entire days he was horribly psychologically tortured, and to some degree physically tortured. And then the remainder of the time he was in the Mexican Embassy, he being a Mexican citizen, for his own protection, because the Honduran government refused to allow him to leave.

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However, his departure, and the fact that he is now back in Mexico, is a rare moment when people united actually get to see immediate results of our work. And what happened is that people around the world who know Gustavo or who care about the struggle, mobilized, and we got responses from 62 congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives, denouncing this to Secretary of State Kerry, and asking him to cut military aid. We got the Vatican to pronounce itself against what was happening to Gustavo. There were calls from everybody, from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and so many other well-known people. And in Latin America alone, over 100,000 people sent letters calling for Gustavo's release.

So he is back home. However, I am sorry to say that he is not at all safe because a hit man could easily be dispatched from Honduras, and go into Mexico. And we are at a moment when this sort of thing is happening quite regularly here in Honduras. Gustavo is, unfortunately, extremely inconvenient to the Honduran government and to the dam company that Berta and her group had been opposing, who we are quite sure paid the hit men who killed her.

And incidentally I was with Berta's brother, also named Gustavo, a couple of days ago, and he said that two weeks before her death, Berta called him and said that they had already contracted and paid for the death squads who were to shoot her. This was a long anticipated event.

DB: The name of the company.

Bell: The company is DESA, which means "energy development" in Spanish. It claims to be a Honduran company -- however, it is underwritten by funds from the Dutch Development Bank, the Finnish Development Bank, and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, which basically the U.S. runs. In the past it was also underwritten by the World Bank, although very strong pressure from the indigenous organization here, COPINH, caused the World Bank to pull out, and it also caused the largest dam company in the world, Sinohydro, which is owned by the Chinese government, to pull out.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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