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News > Latin America

Honduras: Berta Caceres’ Family Speaks Out and Blames the State

  • A woman holds up a poster with an image of Berta Caceres along a street during her funeral in the town of La Esperanza, Honduras, March 5, 2016.

    A woman holds up a poster with an image of Berta Caceres along a street during her funeral in the town of La Esperanza, Honduras, March 5, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 10 March 2016

Relatives of slain Indigenous leader Berta Caceres are calling for an independent investigation into her murder.

As Honduran social movements continue to mourn the tragic murder of renowned environmental rights activist Berta Caceres, her family released a statement holding the state responsible for her death and demanding immediate actions to put an end to the systematic repression suffered by human rights defenders in the Central American country.

“What happened is not an isolated act,” family members said in a statement issued by Caceres’ Lenca Indigenous organization COPINH on Wednesday.

“Her death demonstrates the grave situation of risk in which human rights defenders find themselves, particularly those who defend the rights of Indigenous peoples and the common goods of nature against the exploitation of our territories,” they added.

The family explained that Caceres, her relatives, and COPINH members have consistently faced harassment, threats and arbitrary criminalization while resisting the neoliberal policies of the right-wing government and the unwanted development projects on Lenca territory it promotes.

In light of the long-standing and credible danger hanging over the community, Caceres’ family members slammed Honduran authorities for not having the political will to investigate complaints and offer effective protection.

“Therefore, the state of Honduras is responsible for the assassination of our comrade and mother Berta Caceres,” the statement said.

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Family members are demanding the immediate involvement of independent, trusted experts in the investigation being led by the attorney general’s office to ensure a thorough and just process.

They also demanded the immediate cancellation of the Agua Zarco dam project on Lenca territory in Rio Blanco, backed by the Honduran-Chinese joint venture Desa-Sinohydro, saying the project poses a “permanent threat” to the community’s safety.

Other unwanted concessions in Lenca territory should also be suspended, the statement argued, calling on authorities to ensure that corporations respect the Indigenous right to approve or deny all development projects on their land.

COPINH also demanded respect for Indigenous autonomy and an end to militarization of Lenca communities, where state security forces often work in concert with private guards to repress resistance movements and protect corporate interests.

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Finally, the group called for a new law specifically focused on protecting human rights defenders. According to the organization Global Witness, Honduras is the most dangerous place in the world for land and environmental defenders.

Caceres was shot dead in her home in the early hours of March 3 after receiving a wave of death threats as a result of her work against corporations, the government, and the abuse of human rights since the 2009 coup that saw the democratically elected Manuel Zelaya ousted from power, with the complicity of the U.S. and Canadian governments.

Though authorities have launched an investigation, the witness to Caceres’ murder, Gustavo Castro, has slammed the process for criminalizing members of COPINH while leaving the suspects behind previous death threats toward Caceres untouched.

Castro, a victim injured in the attack and left for dead, has also been mistreated as the key witness to the murder and fears for his life, but has committed to fighting for justice despite the challenges.

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