Reprinted from Consortium News
Berta Cceres, Honduran environment and human rights activist, murdered
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An apparent resurgence of death-squad violence in Honduras, including the March 3 murder of prominent Honduran indigenous rights activist Berta Caceres, is a harsh reminder of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's role in defending a 2009 coup that ousted leftist President Manuel Zelaya and cleared the way for the restoration of right-wing rule in the impoverished Central American nation.
Caceres, the recent winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, was murdered in her hometown of La Esperenza, Intibuca, in the highlands near the Salvadoran border. Her good friend and close associate, Gustavo Castro, was shot twice but survived the assassination and is now being held against his will by the Honduran Government.
Castro held Caceres in his arms as she lay dying and played dead to avoid his own execution. He has since been forcibly stopped from leaving Honduras.
The Honduran Government has characterized the killing of Caceres as a common burglary gone bad, but her friends and close associates reject the government claims as preposterous and part of an emerging cover-up.
In a statement, COPINH, the indigenous rights group that Caceres was closely associated with, characterized her close-range murder as an assassination. In a press release the day after the murder, the group talked about the multiple death threats that Caceres faced prior to her slaying.
"In the last few weeks, violence and repression towards Berta, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated," COPINH stated. "In Rio Blanco on February 20th, Berta, COPINH, and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats and repression as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally-financed Honduran company DESA.
"As a result of COPINH's work supporting the Rio Blanco struggle... Berta had received countless threats against her life and was granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. On February 25th, another Lenca community supported by COPINH in Guise, Intibuca was violently evicted and destroyed."
Caceres received the Goldman Environmental Prize after she led a high-profile, peaceful campaign to stop one of the world's largest dam builders from pursuing the Agua Zarca Dam, which would have effectively cut off the ethnic Lenca people from water, food and medicine. When Caceres won the Goldman Prize last year, she accepted in the name of "the martyrs who gave their lives in the struggle to defend our natural resources."
Friends, co-workers, intellectuals and activists are outraged by the killing and many track this and many other murders of activists in Honduras back to the tenure of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. They say Clinton's lead role in supporting the 2009 oligarch-backed coup that drove the elected progressive President Zelaya from power. Zelaya's ouster opened the door to a restoration of right-wing rule and out-of-control "free trade." Honduras soon became the murder capital of the world.
When the Honduran military removed Zelaya from power, the international community -- including the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the European Union -- condemned the coup and sought Zelaya's restoration. But Secretary of State Clinton allied herself with right-wing Republicans in Congress who justified Zelaya's removal because of his cordial relations with Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez.
In her memoir, Hard Choices, Clinton took credit for preventing Zelaya from returning to Honduras, as if it were a major victory for democracy instead the beginning of a new era of death-squad violence and repression in Honduras.
"We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras," Clinton wrote, "and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot." In other words, rather than support the right of the elected president to serve out his term, Clinton allowed his illegal ouster to lead to an interim right-wing regime followed by elections that the Honduran oligarchs could again dominate.
Since then, the violence in Honduras has spiraled out of control driving tens of thousands of desperate Hondurans, including unaccompanied children, to flee north to the United States where Clinton later supported their prompt deportation back to Honduras.
On Tuesday, I spoke with Beverly Bell from Other Worlds who worked closely with Berta Caceres and Gustavo Castro. She was deeply concerned about the safety of Castro and other close associates of Caceres. She described the situation as follows:
"One person saw the assassination, Gustavo Castro Soto, coordinator of Otros Mundos Chiapas/Friends of the Earth Mexico. A Mexican, Gustavo had come to Berta's town of La Esperanza to provide her with peace accompaniment, and spent the night at her house on her last night of life. Gustavo himself was shot twice and survived by feigning death. Berta died in his arms.