Murdered Honduran environmental leader Berta Caceres received at least 33 death threats before she was assassinated, but authorities never took the harassment seriously enough to investigate the credible threats against her life, Caceres’ daughter, Laura Zuñiga, said in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
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The indifferent attitude toward systematic and fatal violence against Honduran rights defenders has only continued in the wake of Caceres’ death, she said at a briefing on Capitol Hill. “There’s little will among authorities in Honduras to investigate the murder of my mother,” Zuñiga said.
Despite the grave risks Caceres faced as a result of her tireless fight against unwanted corporate projects in Lenca land, Zuñiga also said that the last words her mother said to her were that she was never afraid. And even in death, her example continues to inspire.
“My mother isn’t dead,” Zuñiga added. “She is multiplied.”
Laura Zúñiga Y Gaspar Sanchez de #COPINH en el congreso de #EEUU denunciando el asesinato de #BertaCáceres #Honduras pic.twitter.com/BSoXTXYhCA— AurorateleSUR (@teleSURaurora) March 23, 2016
"Laura Zuñiga and Gaspar Sanchez from COPINH in the U.S. Congress denouncing the murder of Berta Caceres"
Gaspar Sanchez, a member of the Indigenous organization COPINH that Caceres co-founded, echoed concerns that the Honduran investigation will not lead to justice for Caceres’ murder.
“For the military men who assassinate human rights defenders there is privilege,” Sanchez told U.S. lawmakers. “So they are never investigated.”
Caceres’ family and members of COPINH have slammed the government-led investigation for criminalizing Caceres’ fellow activists and the sole witness to the murder, Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro, who also fears for his life as a victim of an assassination attempt. Those known to be behind the numerous death threats Caceres received have not faced the same scrutiny.
.@RepHankJohnson Briefing on assassination of #BertaCaceres w/ daughter Laura & @COPINHHONDURAS compañero Gaspar pic.twitter.com/KQpYQzlXPC— LAWG (@LAWGaction) March 23, 2016
Zuñiga also criticized U.S. support for abuses in Honduras, including the role of the U.S. State Department, under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in locking in the 2009 coup in Honduras by helping to block ousted President Manuel Zelaya’s return to power. Clinton advocated for swift post-coup elections, which ultimately took place under rampant human rights abuses and widespread cries of electoral fraud.
“It’s a lack of respect for United States people that the U.S. gives money to the police in Honduras, which is marked by violating human rights,” added Zuñiga.
The statement echoed calls from other human rights defenders for the United States to stop funding repression in the Central American country.
Sanchez argued that for the Indigenous communities where Caceres led resistance movements, “development” must go beyond dam construction and privatizing rivers to enable local people reap productive harvests and maintain their livelihoods.
Berta Caceres, recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, was murdered in her home on March 3.