Bertha Caceres, an environmental activist who was assassinated was vocal in protecting the lands of the Lenca Indigenous of Honduras. She successfully fought DESA’s construction of the hydroelectric dam, Agua Zarca on the White River despite death threats and militarisation of the area by Honduran forces. In the middle of the night on March 2, 2016, Caceres was gunned down at her home in La Esperanza in a commando-style operation.
Now an international team of lawyers noted that murder of Caceres was the product of a coordinated plot to silence indigenous protests. The report by the team says hydroelectric company Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA) that Caceres had fought plotted with Honduran military and security forces to kill the Indigenous leader..
The investigation was carried out by theInternational Advisory Group of Experts (GAIPE), which is comprised of several lawyers from Guatemala, Colombia, Holland and the United States and was based on dozens of interviews, court records and partial access to evidence provided by government investigators. But it warned that the investigation has been clouded and the full truth may never be brought into the light.
“Despite the secrecy of the Public Prosecutor’s investigation, GAIPE has been able to establish the participation of executives, managers and employees of (dam developer) DESA, of private security personnel hired by the company, of state agents and parallel structures to State security forces in crimes committed before, during and after ... the day of the assassination,” the report said. “Those crimes remain unpunished.
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director for Amnesty International, noted how “For years, she had been the victim of a sustained campaign of harassment and threats to stop her from defending the rights of indigenous communities.”
GAIPE also faulted international lending institutions for failing to pull out from the project at the beginning itself despite numerous red flags raised. Dutch Development Bank, the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation and German companies Siemens and Voith were major foreign partners in the project.
Numerous activists have been assassinated after the US encouraged military coup in 2009 that ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. Honduras is the deadliest place on earth for environmentalists and indigenous land activists. Last year, 14 were killed, according to the UK-based Global Witness, and at least 120 in all since 2010.
Zelaya, who belonged to the Centrist Liberal Party during his four years in office had implemented numerous socialist policies that angered the countries military and economic elites. He raised the minimum wage and provided free school lunches, milk for young children, pensions for the elderly, and additional scholarships for students. The most radical move by Zelaya was to organize an assembly to replace the 1982 constitution written during the waning days of the U.S.-backed military dictator Policarpo Paz Garcia.
A non-binding referendum on whether such a constitutional assembly should take place was scheduled the day of the coup, but was cancelled when the military seized power and named Congressional Speaker Roberto Micheletti as president.
According to reports a number of U.S. officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — played an important role in helping the military junta in consolidating its power despite the massive nonviolent protests. The US has given Honduras an estimated $200m in police and military aid since 2010 as part of its efforts to stem organised crime and undocumented migration, according to defence and state department figures.
In 2016, a former Honduran soldier claimed that Caceres’s name appeared on a hitlist distributed to US-trained special forces units of the military months before her death. Lists featuring the names and photographs of dozens of social and environmental activists were given to two elite units, with orders to eliminate each target, said First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz, 20 speaking to The Guardian.
In 2015, Caceres was the awarded the Goldman Environmental Award for her continued environmental activism against DESA and protecting the rights of indigenous communities.