U.S.-trained Honduran forces had the murdered Indigenous activist Berta Caceres on a hit list, and many who resisted orders to kill have now disappeared, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.
The list, which included notable peasant activists fighting for land rights, was handed to a military police unit by the Inter-institutional Security Force (Fusina) months before the murder of the award-winning environmental activist in March. A former member of the unit, who fled the country and still fears for his life, told the Guardian over the phone that he saw the list and, like many of his colleagues, refused to comply.
“The lieutenant said he wasn’t willing to go through with the order as the targets were decent people, fighting for their communities,” the first sergeant, identified under the pseudonym Rodrigo Cruz, told the Guardian. “He said the order came from the joint chiefs of staff (and) he was under pressure from the Xatruch commander to comply.”
Cruz, whose identity the Guardian identified, said that his unit commander and members also fled the country, and he worries that the 10 that have not been heard from were killed.
The elite unit was created to replace a civilian police force and is among the recipients of US$200 million in U.S. aid and US$750 million from the Alliance for Prosperity fund distributed within the Northern Triangle. Honduran police and military forces also receive funding from the U.S. National Defense Appropriations Act, which President Barack Obama has wanted to raise, and accepted a US$60 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, approved by the United States.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill last week to pull out security from Honduras and suspend security training, equipment and loans until Honduras fulfills a list of human rights demands. While the funds already come with conditions, they have not been respected.
Fusina, which compiled the hit list, has received training from the U.S. Marines and FBI, and one of the five arrested for Caceres’ murder has served in Iraq alongside the U.S. army and is reported to have graduated from a special operations course led by U.S. special forces.
Cruz said he was “100 percent certain” that Caceres was killed by the Honduran army. He said he would wake up to dispose corpses in the River Tocoa and has seen a military “torture room” with “fresh blood, a hammer, nails, a chain and pliers.”
Caceres, who fought to stop the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, had previously said that she was on a hit list and counted 33 death threats against her campaign. Cruz said that he saw several lists, with names of activists from the Bajo Aguan palm oil region and from the United Peasant Movement featuring prominently.
The company behind the controversial hydroelectric project, Desarrollos Energeticos S.A., better known as DESA, signed a contract with USAID partner Fintrac in December 2015, less than three months before Caceres was murdered.
Between 2010 and 2015, over 100 environmental defenders were killed in Honduras, one of the deadliest countries for activists. Last year was the most dangerous on record for environmental activists, according to a U.N. report released Monday, which described “open warfare” sparked by the growing agribusiness industry.