Last week, Berta Cáceres Flores, Lenca leader who fought with such dedication for the preservation of her peoples’ natural and ancestral resources, was tragically murdered by at least two individuals who broke down the door of the house where Berta was staying in the Residencial La Líbano in La Esperanza, Intibuca.
Since 2006, Berta and COPINH have been entrenched in a struggle with DESA, a private Honduran company, building the Agua Zarca dam in Rio Blanco, Honduras. The project has been plagued by human rights abuses from its inception, when it bypassed a consultative process with the affected communities before breaking ground. The last protest that took place on February 20, 2016 was accompanied by Witness for Peace, where we witnessed excessive and unnecessary militarization, along with a lack of respect for the Right to Assembly and Freedom of Speech. At the protest, members of COPINH were blocked from protesting by a tractor, and protesters were threatened with arrest.
We are profoundly concerned that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has partnered with DESA’s Social Investment Programming through the MERCADO project, linking US taxpayer dollars to the repression and violence against COPINH.
We strongly condemn the role in Rio Blanco of Los TIGRES, a Honduran specialized police unit, which is funded and vetted by the United States, in defending the private interests of DESA.
We demand that the U.S. Embassy not only offer “all the resources of the United States Government to assist in bringing these criminals to justice” as they have stated that they have done, but rather support an independent international investigation and DEMAND that both the intellectual and material authors of the murder be prosecuted. We also call for all legal and political measures possible to guarantee the immediate and ongoing protection of the witness Gustavo Castro Soto, as well as all members of COPINH.
We further demand that the United States government recall its ambassador to Honduras for consultations until such time as concrete action to end impunity in the murder of Berta Cáceres Flores has taken place, and institutional measures to protect human rights have materialized.