Gustavo Castro: Why Do the Killers of Berta Cáceres Want Him Imprisoned or Dead?

International pressure is rising for the immediate and safe return to Mexico of Gustavo Castro Soto, activist, writer, and director of Otros Mundos/Friends of the Earth Mexico. The sole witness to the March 3 assassination of Honduran environment and democracy leader Berta Cáceres faces great danger on Honduran soil. The wounded Gustavo remains a prisoner of the state, illegally forbidden from leaving the country until April 6.

On March 29, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asked the Honduran government to allow Gustavo to leave Honduras so that he can participate in hearings in Washington beginning April 2.  Sixty-two US congresspeople sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that he pressure the Honduran government to implement and comply with precautionary measures that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders called for the Honduran government to protect Gustavo and send him home speedily. Institutions and individuals, from the Vatican to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. have done the same.

Street demonstrations for Gustavo’s release and safe passage continue in Honduras and Mexico. Tens of thousands of letters, emails, and calls of protest from around the world have also conveyed that message to the governments of those countries, in addition to the US.

A Horror Story

When the killers entered the home of Berta Cáceres, they first shot Gustavo twice, injuring his hand and ear. He feigned death, at which point they went to Berta’s room. There, the two gunmen did the deed for which, a preponderance of evidence shows, they had been paid by the Agua Zarca dam company, with blessings from the Honduran government. (Berta and the group she headed, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras [COPINH], have led a multi-year fight against Agua Zarca, which is illegally constructing a dam on a sacred river in a Lenca indigenous community.)

The men left immediately, and Gustavo raced to Berta’s room. She died in his arms, blood from her chest, stomach, and arm flowing over him.

From that time, just before midnight, until the next evening, Gustavo would be forced to remain in those blood-caked clothes. The government, which took him into custody as a material witness, would not let him change or meet other essential needs. He remained in Honduran custody for several days for “questioning.”

Gustavo now languishes in the Mexican Embassy in Tegucigalpa. His physical well-being remains unassured as long as he is in Honduras, even with embassy protection, as the Mexican ambassador has confirmed.

His legal team has filed a writ of protection to overturn the judge’s illegal and arbitrary ruling that he must remain in the country for 37 days after the assault. Honduran law does not allow witnesses to be forced to stay in the country. The judge’s decision also violates international law guaranteeing the right to free travel.

No charges have been brought against Gustavo. He is no longer even being questioned.

Framing Gustavo and COPINH

Meanwhile, the government’s investigation has been thoroughly discredited, both forensically and in terms of conflict of interest. The director of prosecution is a financial partner and friend of lawyers of the company behind the Agua Zarca dam.

One of Gustavo’s lawyer, Miguel Ángel de los Santos, said in an interview with the Guardian on March 28, “There is a lot of fear because in Honduras there is total insecurity and impunity – and blaming someone close to Berta would be the easiest and most convenient thing to do.”

On March 19, presidential advisor Marvin Ponce made coy statements to the press that “surprises” were forthcoming in the investigation. Inside sources leaked that the surprises were likely to include a formal charge against Gustavo for Berta’s murder.

However, the government has thus far made no statements regarding conclusions of its investigation. Indications are that this is due to the volume of international pressure it has received, and that it is waiting for pressure to die down and attention to turn elsewhere before moving forward.

Besides Gustavo, the government appears to be setting up COPINH leaders as murder suspects. In the week following the attack, police arrested or interrogated Aureliano Molina, Tomas Gómez, and Sotero Echeverria in relation to Berta’s slaying. The government is also running a broader campaign of violence and vilification on COPINH, including killing leader Nelson Garcia on March 15.

Reasons for Wanting Gustavo Imprisoned or Dead

The first reason for wanting to lock Gustavo away or eliminate him is that he can identify Berta’s killer. As such, he is a roadblock to the regime’s plan to pin the murder on COPINH.

There is a second reason the government is detaining Gustavo and possibly trying to implicate him. He is to lands and rivers in Mexico what Berta was – is – to lands and rivers in Honduras. Both have led powerful campaigns against damming, logging, and mining, especially on indigenous lands. Both have been at the forefront of fighting what is behind that extraction: transnational capital and its servitors in national government, multinational corporations, and the US government.

Gustavo has also been part of a strong international solidarity movement fighting, first, the US-backed coup d’état in 2009 in Honduras, and now its legacy. He has long stood with COPINH and other Honduran social movements in their quest for political and economic justice.

The administration of President Juan Orlando Hernández is a continuation of the dictatorship that has ruled with lawlessness and unaccountability since the coup. The US government assisted and funded successive sham elections, which it then certified as legitimate. This has allowed the US to maintain control of its main political and military client state in Central America. The regime is intolerant of dissent, as its human rights record has shown.

This includes intolerance of dissent by foreigners, especially those whom the government may perceive to be fostering trouble in their land.

To the distaste of the government, this week COPINH is publicly celebrating its 23rd birthday. Berta cofounded the group a few weeks after turning 22, and led it until her death. On March 29, Gustavo wrote a note of congratulations to COPINH, in which he said:

Berta is present in this moment… She is reborn in the hearts of everyone of you, of us, of the millions of people who raise their voice to cry for justice. Berta has transformed into a bird whose wings are poised toward Utopia.

An Appeal for Justice

It is too late to stop the Honduran government from ridding themselves of Berta. It is not too late to stop the Honduran government from imprisoning or harming Gustavo.

Otros Mundos and COPINH invite all people of conscience to call for Gustavo’s safe and immediate return to Mexico, as well as an independent commission of international experts, guided by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to participate in the investigation into the double crime against Berta and Gustavo. The call extends to an end to criminalization of COPINH members and for the permanent suspension of the Agua Zarca dam.

INTERVIEW WITH BERTA CÁCERES: “TO FIGHT AGAINST REPRESSION IN HONDURAS IS TO FIGHT FOR OUR WHOLE CONTINENT”

Below is a never-before-published interview with international social movement leader and Honduran indigenous organizer Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated on March 3, 2016. The interview was taken in Havana on September 4, 2009, two months after Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a US-backed coup d’état, while the unelected regime was still on a rampage to destroy resistance and the activists behind it. Cáceres’ murder has brought the overthrow of the last legitimately elected government to rule that country back into the global spotlight, because that overthrow laid the groundwork for the repression that now engulfs grassroots justice movements.

Cáceres’ message in the interview was clear: Pay attention. Stand up with and for us. Our fates are connected, and what happens to us can happen to you.

“What’s past is prologue,” Shakespeare said. Today, an unelected regime is again attempting to destroy resistance and the activists behind it. Berta’s message is as relevant to the Americas and the US now as then.

 

Beverly Bell: We’re in Havana at the Forum on Emancipatory Paradigms, speaking about the repression of those behind the coup d’état.

Berta Cáceres: We’ve seen an enormous attack against social movements, trying to dismantle us. The repressive forces have been brutal against youth, against women, against indigenous people. There has been an uncountable number of individual and collective human rights violations. The repression has been direct and shameless.

There have been smear campaigns and threats. There’s been a campaign of terror through the media, using the psychology of fear to criminalize protest and social movements. We’ve seen how the media, owned by the coup oligarchs, has been violating the right to free expression, repressing all the [dissenting] media and shutting up their journalists. 

We know there are plans to capture and assassinate leaders.

BB: How have laws been trampled to justify all this?  

BC: One way is suspending our constitutional rights and guarantees. The regime has pushed forward laws that, when they capture activists, let them use accusation against the compañeros like sedition, terrorism, illegal protests.

They’ve taken actions that are illegal, unconstitutional, and they haven’t even had to change many laws to do it, because the body of laws was already there as part of the plan for the war on terrorism that Bush was pushing.

But it doesn’t really matter to them whether or not there’s a law. It’s a coup. 

BB: The other day, you spoke about the fact that, even though this is a terrible coup and completely in disregard of human rights and democracy, it is also a special time for you all. Could you tell us what advances the movement has made as a result of this coup?

BC: Well, Honduras has always been an unknown country. We’ve always been known for two things: for being a military base, the launching pad and training site for the attack on the Nicaraguan revolution and for the elite death squads of Guatemala and El Salvador. And the other thing we’re known for is Hurricane Mitch, that terrible disaster.

Now the world knows Honduras for a very different phenomenon. We’ve seen the amazement of the international community and the solidarity community. And we were surprised, as well, at how from the Honduran people burst forth this enormous force, after all the accumulated history of frustration and demands. 

A real gain has been the massive, incredible involvement of women. They have been strong, energetic, creative, coming up with new kinds of struggle, displaying an amazing amount of energy.

Also the youth, the superstar participants in this movement.  It’s no coincidence that the repression has been so fierce against them.

Indigenous people, as well: Since the first day we’ve been present in this mobilization, in all the marches, the occupation of highways.

We’ve been able to unite ourselves around one central objective, which is to overthrow the dictatorship. And to demand not only the restoration of the democratic president Manuel Zelaya, but also to unite around other historic demands.

We have a chant that we’ve really taken to heart, that says, “They fear us because we’re fearless.”

The oligarchs made a mistake when they said: “Three days and this will all be over.” They were wrong. They’ve been wrong about a lot of things.  We can see that they are weak. We see them as beaten down. We see them as wavering in front of the force of the people of Honduras. 

BB: You’ve said this is the first time that you all have been united in a popular movement.

BC: Yes. To me, this is the biggest accomplishment: the unity of a social movement. And they didn’t wait for structure or directions or ideology or leaders or anything. They had this explosion of organization, of rebellion, of insurrection in a way that was spontaneous, autonomous, and creative.

The coup and the military dictatorship helped us form ourselves into what we call here one big knot. We’re all united under the same objective. The movement understands that the resistance front, which is a broad-based movement with a lot of different mass organizations, needs to maintain its principles and its independence. This movement has taught a lesson not only to the ultra-right, but to us in the popular movement. 

BB: You’re here with a lot of progressive folks at this Forum on Alternative Paradigms. Many of them have lived through dictatorships in their own countries. What’s the message you’ve been saying?

BC: You have to be clear about one thing: The coup in Honduras hasn’t just been against Honduras. It’s been against all emancipatory processes. It’s been a clear, threatening message to the progressive and leftist governments in our continent. It’s a message that the ultra-right and the imperialists aren’t going to stop. They want to reclaim power, and they know very well that they need our resources.

The coup is directly related to the plundering of our resources. It’s very clear, the involvement of gringo geopolitical interests in the region. It’s connected to other plans of militarization and annexation, as in the so-called drug war in Colombia, the threat of destabilization of the governments of Ecuador, of Bolivia, of Paraguay, of our region in Central America, of others.

So our call to this continent is that we need to really push to unite ourselves and create strategies between social movements and left governments.

BB: You have said a museum that should be built. For what and why?

BC: We’ve marched so much to defy a dictatorship that if we were to add up the hours and the kilometers – from Colon to San Pedro Sula, or from Batea or Piedra Gorda, del Paraiso to the capital – it would be something incredible. A friend said, “We’ve marched so much, for real, that we’ve worn out our shoes and our flip-flops. We’ve got to put together a museum for all the worn-out shoes.”

For us this means to raise up the evidence of the resistance. You know? We’ve seen compañeros with foot problems, with injuries, and they’re still there marching. We’ve seen a 76-year-old woman who never let the resistance down, day after day. And a 10-year-old giving profound speeches to crowds of 70,000 people. It’s something a people can only do when they feel that their hour has come. 

BB: Is there anything else you want to say?

BC: Only that for us, as the Honduran people, it’s important that you understand our reality better. We have been a forgotten country. It’s important to understand our history, our resistance, the accumulation of all of these demands that the people are expressing right now.

Also to emphasize the need for solidarity, to call out to the international community and all movements to be in solidarity with us.

To fight against the dictatorship and repression in Honduras right now is to fight for our whole continent.

Please take action here to call for safety for members of COPINH and Gustavo Castro Soto, the sole witness to Berta Cáceres’ murder who is being prevented from returning safely to his home in Mexico, as well as for a fair, internationally led investigation into Berta Cáceres’ killing.

Gustavo Castro Soto and the Rigged Investigation into Berta Cáceres’ Assassination

The sole eyewitness to Honduran social movement leader Berta Cáceres’ assassination on March 3, 2016 has gone from being wounded victim to, effectively, political prisoner.

Now Gustavo Castro Soto may also be framed as the murderer of his long-time friend.

Both the Mexican Ambassador, Dolores Jiménez, and Castro himself are worried that he will be charged by the government for the killing, they told the National Commission of Human Rights of Honduras on March 16.

A writer and organizer for environmental and economic justice, Castro has been forbidden by local authorities from leaving the country to return to his native Mexico until April 6, at least.  Since being released from several days in Honduran government custody, he has been forced to take refuge in the Mexican Embassy in Tegucigalpa. The protection of the Mexican Embassy “does not mean that my life is no longer in danger,” Castro wrote to some friends and colleagues on March 4. As long as he is on Honduran soil, he remains in peril. Ambassador Jiménez called the risk he is running “an objective fact.”

Castro – who is able to identify Cáceres’ killer – is an impediment to the plan that the Honduran government is clearly advancing, which is to pin the murder on members of the group which Cáceres founded and ran, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH). It could help the strategy of the fraudulently elected regime to dispense with Castro by charging and arresting him.

The government may also charge COPINH members with the killing of their leader, in the hopes of eliminating them from the body politic. Authorities tried to incriminate three of them just after the murder. Prominent COPINH organizer Aureliano Molina was imprisoned for two days on suspicion of a “crime of passion,” though he was two hours away from La Esperanza on the night of March 3. Two other COPINH leaders, Tomas Gómez and Sotero Echeverria, were interrogated for days, during which time the government denied their request for accompaniment by their lawyers. On March 15, Echeverria was threatened with arrest.

The Real Assassins

Cáceres was a tireless organizer for accountable government, participatory democracy, indigenous peoples and their territories, human rights, and women’s and LGBTQ rights.  For many years, she was subject to threats, attempted violent attacks, legal prosecution for being a “continual danger to the nation,” and other persecution.

Just during the three-month period prior to Cáceres’ murder, human rights accompaniers tracked 11 threats and attempted assaults by national and local government officials, police, soldiers, employees of the Agua Zarca dam project which Cáceres and others were fighting, and unidentified men. In addition to that litany within 10 days before Cáceres’ death, Agua Zarca released two incendiary public email announcements. Their message lines read “THE ACTS VIOLENT” and “FALSEHOODS  OF BERTA CACERES  – COPINH.”

Those who have witnessed the price Cáceres has paid for her decades of advocacy have no doubt who is culpable in her murder. Her four grown children and mother stated publicly on March 5, “We hold DESA [the company behind the dam], the international financial organizations backing the project (the Netherlands Development Finance Company [or] FMO, Finnfund [the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation], the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, Ficohsa Bank)… responsible for the …constant death threats against Berta, us, and COPINH. We hold the Honduran state responsible for obstructing Berta’s protection and for contributing to her persecution, criminalization and murder.”

Castro’s Ordeal

Many elements of the government’s so-called collection of evidence from Castro have been irregular at best, and illegal at worst.

Beyond being inconvenient for knowing too much, the eyewitness falls into the repressive government’s category of public enemy. Like Cáceres, Castro has been a vocal opponent of dam construction on indigenous rivers, as well as of the broad powers given transnational corporations and the local elite to plunder democracy and the riches of nature. Castro is coordinator of the group Otros Mundos/Friends of the Earth Mexico. He has cofounded, and sits on the governing body of, many anti-mining and anti-damming networks, as well as the US-based organization Other Worlds. In his interrogation, the public prosecutor has asked  Castro about his environmental organizing and history of activism.

Following the killing in Cáceres’ home in the town of La Esperanza, Castro was detained for days in the local public prosecutor’s office for interrogation. On March 5, having been told the questioning was complete, he was transported by the Mexican ambassador and consul to the airport in Tegucigalpa so that he could return to his homeland. As he approached the migration checkpoint, Castro was set upon by multiple Honduran police, who attempted to grab him. The Mexican ambassador stopped them.

The government has since forbidden Castro from leaving Honduras for 30 days, or until April 6. When Castro appealed the order, the judge in the case ruled against it, even while admitting that there is no legal provision for a 30-day restraint for witnesses or victims.

The judge also suspended the license of Castro’s lawyer, Ivania Galeano, for 15 days. The stated reason was that Galeano had requested a copy of Castro’s file which, according to Honduran law, was her right.  

Even in the Mexican Embassy, almost three weeks after the killing, Castro continues to be interrogated by the Honduran prosecutor.

Hearing No Protest from the US, Honduran Government Ramps Up Repression

The US State Department put out a brief, generic statement of condolence the day after Cáceres was assassinated. At the same time, according to email communications, the State Department confirmed that it is cooperating with the Honduran government in the investigation, with various US agencies actively participating in it.

The Obama Administration has failed to raise questions about the Honduran government’s role in the murder, given its persistent, well-documented targeting of Cáceres over the years, and its transparent attempts at a cover-up by fingering Cáceres’ close colleagues. US military assistance to the Honduran government continues to flow.

On March 17, 62 US Congressional representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, calling for an independent investigation of the assassination and urging the Secretary to immediately stop US security funding pending a review. Rep. Hank Johnson, co-sponsor of the letter along with Rep. Keith Ellison, said, “It’s time for our government to leverage security assistance and multilateral loans so as to put real and lasting pressure on the Honduran government to protect its activists and pursue those responsible for these hideous crimes.”

Meanwhile, the silence from the administration has given the Honduran government a green light for repression.

That repression was aggressively launched on March 15. On that single day, Honduran soldiers and police coordinated assaults against 10 activists from four geographic regions and three separate organizations. Nelson García, a COPINH leader, was assassinated during a violent government eviction of the community of Rio Chiquito. As stated above, police threatened Sotero Echeverria, member of the COPINH coordinating committee, with arrest. In the capitol, three hit men shot and wounded Christian Mauricio Alegría, who works with the global peasant movement La Via Campesina. His uncle, Rafael Alegría, is a deputy in the national parliament from the opposition Libre Party, and is former secretary general of La Via Campesina. José Flores, head of the United Movement of the Peasants of the Aguan (MUCA), was temporarily arrested along with family members in the town of Tocoa.

The message was clear to all. No matter where one is or with whom one works, activists are not safe in Honduras.

From the Mexican Embassy on March 15, Castro sent out a note of condolence and support to the Honduran people. He closed the missive this way: “Soon there will be justice.”
 

Please take action here to call for safety for Gustavo Castro and members of COPINH, as well as for a fair, internationally led investigation into Berta Cáceres’ killing.

WHY WAS BERTA CÁCERES ASSASSINATED?

A few numbers begin to reveal why Honduran indigenous leader and global movement luminary, Berta Cáceres, was assassinated on March 3, 2016.

According to the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), more than 300 hydroelectric dams are planned for Honduras, of which 49are on COPINH lands. Eight hundred seventy-two contracts have been handed out to corporations for mining alone, with many others created for mega-tourism, wind energy, and logging projects. The majority of these are planned for indigenous lands. Of those, all are in violation of International Labor Organization Convention 169, to which Honduras is a signatory, allowing free, prior, and informed consent by indigenous peoples before development may take place in their territories.

The many planned extraction projects – in a country slightly larger than the state of Virginia – add up to the need of the Honduran and US governments to subjugate the population. Quiescence and compliance are essential for the national elite and multinational corporations to make their profits. So here are a few more relevant numbers. Honduras has 12,000 soldiers – one for every 717 people, for a county not expected to go to war. Its 2013 “defense” budget was $230 million. Since 2009, the US has invested as much as $45 million in construction funds for just one of those bases, Soto Cano, commonly known as Palmerola. Last year, US taxpayers footed$5.25 million in direct military aid, and much more in training for 164 soldiers at the School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Operation. Three hundred seventy-two US military personnel are in the country.

Given that state control is often attained through violence, a few more figures become relevant. One hundred one environmental activists were killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2014, making it the most dangerous country anywhere in which to try to defend the Earth.

Nine land defenders were attacked just yesterday, March 15, between the time we began writing this article and when we completed it. COPINH member Nelson Garcia, who had been helping recover lands on Rio Lindo, was assassinated in his home on March 15 while the Rio Lindo community was forcibly evicted. This brings to 14 the number of COPINH members who have been murdered since the group was founded in 1993. A member of COPINH’s coordinating committee, Sotero Echeverria, was threatened with capture by police. Echeverria is one of the 3members of the group who have been framed by the government for Berta’s murder.

Also yesterday, early in the morning, police agents arrested 7 members of United Campesino Movement of the Aguan (MUCA by its Spanish acronym), including the president, Jose Angel Flores. Flores and 6 other MUCA activists, including his family members, were arrested and taken to the police station. Flores has protective measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights because of the danger he, like all those organizing in the Bajo Aguan region, face. Berta did, too. Protective measures have the weight of toilet paper with the Honduran government.

Despite the ongoing violence, COPINH, MUCA, and other Honduran organizations and movements – workers, campesinos, feminists, and more – have resisted the attempts to subdue them. As Berta loved to say about the movement, “They fear us because we are fearless.”  

Of the countless Hondurans who put their bodies on the line every day, no individual has more prominently encouraged or strategically organized dissent than Berta. No Honduran has more visibly spread the message of rebellion to the Americas, nor more audibly urged that rebellion to spread throughout the Americas. “Our call to this continent is that we really push the need to unite ourselves and to create strategies between social movements and left governments,” Berta told a large international gathering of prominent leftists in Havana in 2009.

Berta’s last stand was against a dam being illegally constructed on the sacred Gualcarque River in the community of Rio Blanco. In addition to the internationally financed company DESA, behind the dam was the World Bank, and the largest dam company in the world, Sinohydro, which is owned by the Chinese government. For more than a year and a half, the villagers of Rio Blanco were able to halt the dam construction with nothing more than their bodies, a small trench and fence across the road leading to the river, and their political militance. Berta and others, meanwhile, took the case to the world, building worldwide alliances which brought enough pressure to force the World Bank and Sinohydro to pull out.

Adding insult to injury to those seeking to control water, minerals, forests, and lands, for her work in stopping the dam Berta won the 2015 Goldman Prize, the equivalent of a Nobel for environmental defense. With the award, Berta’s prestige skyrocketed, further threatening domination by the political and economic powers that be.  In her acceptance speech, knowing that behind her stood tens or hundreds of thousands of other Hondurans toiling for justice, Berta dedicated her prize in part, to “rebellion.”

This was too much for DESA and the Honduran government. The multi-year efforts to eliminate Berta – through threats, kidnaping attempts, charges of sedition, and more – finally succeeded in the form of a bullet piercing her flesh. Who hired the assassin is unknown. What is known – given very explicit statements and actions of the company and the government in the days and weeks preceding her assassination – is that both were behind the act.    

Yet even death cannot subdue Berta. In the days since her murder, the notoriety of her person and her message has multiplied exponentially around the word. The current level of global action against Honduran government impunity, US government’s support for it, and pillaging by transnational capital has reached heights that Berta could only have dreamed of. Click here for actions you can take in solidarity.

Below, we rerun excerpts from the story of COPINH’s fight for Rio Blanco, as told through a photo-essay published in 2013.   

We Don’t Negotiate Life: The Defense of Indigenous Lands and Waters in Honduras

September 9, 2013

Defending Lenca lands. A flag in a community center of COPINH shows Lempira, the Lenca chief who led the resistance to Spanish colonists in the 1530s. The text reads: “500 years of struggle, we will continue resisting. Lempira lives! The struggle continues!”

 

This installation was installed illegally on the sacred Gualcarque River in Rio Blanco by the Honduran-owned, foreign-supported damming company DESA. The complex has been base of operations for building and running a dam in the community. The installation was constructed against the will of Rio Blanco’s inhabitants, in violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Labor Organization Convention 169, which require that indigenous peoples give free, prior, and informed consent to development projects on their lands.

 

A tree at the entrance of Rio Blanco hosts the message, “God gave us this land and we will defend it.” The community of Rio Blanco declared its road closed to the dam construction. It has been blockading access to the company for five months.

 

The indigenous movement in Honduras lacks the global attention and left glamour of similar movements elsewhere. Continual deaths and attacks by the military and company-paid goons go largely unpublicized and unnoticed. Yet COPINH feels deeply connected to indigenous autonomy movements around the world, especially the Zapatistas, as seen at the entrance to their national radio station.

 

As is happening throughout the country, indigenous people in Rio Blanco are being attacked physically, politically, and legally. On July 15, a soldier shot community leader Tomás Garcia multiple times at close range. He died immediately. A member of the Indigenous Council and of COPINH, Tomás had been offered 20,000 Lempiras (US$980) to support the dam project. Despite being extremely poor and needing to provide for his large family, he refused to sell out. Tomás was laid to rest in the community cemetery, surrounded by the riches of Mother Earth he had fought to defend. Here, one of his six children places flowers on his grave.

Company goons shot one of Tomas’ young sons twice, just in front and behind his heart., and hacked Tomas’ sister and brother-in-law with machetes. When we gave our condolences to Tomas’ sister, she looked down and said, “We’re going to take care it doesn’t happen again.” Then her expression sharpened and she said, “Screw the company trying to take our river, and the government. We’re going to defend our community and our lands. If I die, I’m going to die defending life.”  

 

One of the charges brought against COPINH leader Berta Cáceres is illegal possession of a weapon “in contravention to the internal security of Honduras.” She and two others, Aureliano Martínez and Tomás Gomez, have also been charged with “continual danger” to the security of the nation and “invasion of land” against the company… never mind that the company invaded Lenca land. The government’s goal is to decapitate the movement, putting Lenca leaders in jail so that the corporations can continue their extractions unimpeded. The trial of the three is September 12, 2013. Here, Berta is shown signing in at the local courthouse, as she has been ordered to do each Friday. She has also been prohibited from going to the “scene of the crime” – the river in Rio Blanco – and leaving the country.

 

The Rio Blanco community at its blockade of the dam. COPINH member Aureliano Molina, one of the three who will go to trial on September 12 for being a danger to the nation, said, “We don’t negotiate life.”

 

The community turned out to support Berta in front of the courthouse in La Esperanza in one of the numerous times she has been the victim of trumped-up charges. Berta said, “We always hold the spirit high, as Lempira did. And we remember the spirits who live in the Gualcarque River. Nature has living spirits, too, and they know that we are struggling to support them.”

 

On August 30, DESA withdrew its damming equipment from the Rio Gualcarque. This is a victory for the resistance of the community, but it may be Pyrrhic. COPINH has learned of secret plans, if the right-wing party wins the November elections, for the government and company to move forward with the dam and to crack down even more viciously against indigenous peoples who refuse to submit. Meanwhile, residents of Rio Blanco swim in the river.     

       

The three COPINH members facing prosecution for being a “continual danger” to the nation. WE ARE ALL TOMAS, BERTA, AND AURELIANO.