Thursday, July 28, 2016

COPINH: Threats and violence continue in Rio Blanco despite attention following assassination of Berta Cáceres

COPINH DENOUNCES REPRESSION IN Río Blanco [Original en español]

Alan Garcia after being shot
COPINH must again denounce the constant threats and intimidation against the Lenca people of the Río Blanco community that is fighting against the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project. In the months since the assassination of our General Coordinator Berta Cáceres, there have been a series of incidents and threats that reflect the Strong climate of violence and repression against members of COPINH who oppose the building of the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project. These incidents are directly linked to members of the DESA corporation and the repressive branches of the State.

We denounce the following: 

On July 23rd, 2016, around 6pm, COPINH member Alan García, who was shot by the army during their assassination of his father Tomás García three years ago, was threatened with a firearm when a man came into the community, took out a gun and pointed it at Alan. In recent months, a group of DESA-affiliated hitmen has come to the community of La Tejera, Río Blanco around midnight threatening to burn down the houses of COPINH members while they sleep in them.

Organization members were informed that Jorge Ávila, DESA’s chief of security, has photos of COPINH members in Río Blanco in order to identify and attack them, which is on top of Jorge Ávila telling other people that he is going to look for the houses of certain COPINH members to kill them. We also denounce that a DESA employee threatened to kill Armando Pineda Sánchez, another COPINH member.

We denounce the collusion of the National Police with the DESA corporation to repress COPINH members, especially a member of the National Police who was apparently transferred to the area from the Bajo Aguán. In April, the officer from the National Police beat a member of COPINH, telling him “I am used to killing people. It’s not just one person I’ve killed; I’ve got a whole cemetery. COPINH people are even easier to kill.” Meanwhile, the chief of security for DESA and two DESA security guards looked on and laughed.

In the crop fields that were illegitimately sold to DESA in Río Blanco, threats continue against members of COPINH who are cultivating corn and beans on their ancestral lands. At the end of June, two COPINH members’ fields were sprayed with poison and destroyed. On May 23rd, Aquilino Madrid, who has ties to DESA and a long history of threats against COPINH members who oppose the Agua Zarca Project, pointed a rifle at a group of 25 COPINH members who had showed up to work the land in the Vega del Achotal area. He also threated a minor that he would hurt him if he found him. On June 10th, he showed up armed again at Vega del Achotal. Despite the destruction of the harvests and the threats, the Lenca people continue to cultivate the ancestral lands that were illegitimately seized. 

We denounce the attempts to silence those who tell the International community about the reality of the Agua Zarca Project. A few weeks after Rosalina Domínguez and Francisco Javier Sánchez, leaders of the Indigenous Council of Río Blanco, came back from Europe where they had demanded the definitive withdrawal of Banks FMO and FinnFund from the Agua Zarca Project, 4 hooded men were asking for the two of them in Río Blanco at night. 

In addition, we denounce an act of intimidation of International press during a visit to Río Blanco. When the journalists travelled to the Gualcarque River by car, they found several tree branches blocking their way, which, despite seeming odd, they removed and continued. After visiting the river, they started heading back but found that someone had but several logs in the road to block their path. Further up the road they again found their way blocked, someone having placed several large rocks in the middle of the road that had not been there hours before. This act of intimidation against the international press is explained by the interests of those who do not want the media to report on the reality of the Agua Zarca Project, a project that has resulted in death and violence.

COPINH calls for national and international solidarity in response to the threats against the Lenca people of Río Blanco organized in opposition to the Agua Zarca Project. We demand the definitive cancellation of this hydroelectric Project and the immediate and definitive withdrawal of all of the Banks financing the Agua Zarca project.

We demand that the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), the FMO and Finn Fund definitively cancel their loans to the Agua Zarca Project. We express our solidarity with the Ngäbe Bugle people of Panamá, who are also defending their territory against anotehr Project financed by the FMO Bank, called the Barro Blanco Hydroelectric Project. We call on FMO and all Banks to stop investing in projects that violate the rights of indigenous peoples, especially the right to free, prior, and informed consent. 

In addition, we denounce that the Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, registered on Wall Street in New York, is the Offshore Guarantor for the Agua Zarca Project and therefor also shares responsibility for the human rights violations of the Lenca people since the initiation of this hydroelectric project, including the assassination of our leader Berta Cáceres.

We demand that the Banks immediately cut ties to teh Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project. There have already been too many assassinations of COPINH members defending the Gualcarque River. We don’t want any more threats or assassinations. 

COPINH re-affirms the struggle for life and in defense of the Gualcarque River, a sacred driver where the spirit of our Berta lives, along with the spirits of the girls and all of the martyrs of Río Blanco.

We demand the immediate and definitive cancellation of the Agua Zarca Project.

No more repression against COPINH and the Lenca people.

No more people assassinated for defending the Gualcarque River. 

La Esperanza, Intibucá, June 27th, 2016

With the ancestral strength of Berta, Iselaca, Etempica and Mota we raise our voices full of Life, Justice, Peace, Dignity and Freedom.

Berta lives and the struggle continues!


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Berta Se Multiplicó - COPINH Resists:La Voz Delegation Report
V. Cervantes July 26, 2016, Chicago
Unless otherwise credited, photos are from La Voz de los de Abajo

On July 25, some people might have been surprised outside the Democratic Party’s National Convention in Philadelphia to see protesters wearing masks made from  a photo of assassinated Honduran indigenous leader Berta Caceres and a giant puppet of Berta as well marching through the streets.   
Nas lutas@PersonalEscrito

One of Berta’s daughters, Laura Yolanda Zuniga, was there too representing  Berta’s organization COPINH and her family as part of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance actions.  The protesters had a specific complaint related to COPINH and Honduras, denouncing the fact that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has admitted to working hard to extend and institutionalize the June 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras and the fact that the Obama administration in general continues to support and supply funds to the latest version of the coup government, President Juan Orlando Hernandez — despite a very long list of human rights violations, state violence, and corruption allegations tied to Hernandez's government and political party. At the same time, it isn’t really a surprise to find COPINH participating  in protests that include support for migrant’s rights, against police murders of black and latinos in the US, the TPP, environmental justice and more. Since its beginnings COPINH has had an international vision. 

In late June of this year La Voz de los de Abajo sent a small fact finding and accompaniment mission to Honduras. One of our priorities was to show support for and to talk to with COPINH in the aftermath of the assassination of its co-founder and long-time general coordinator, Berta Caceres.  On June 26 th we started out for La Esperanza, Intibuca to visit COPINH and to pay our respects to Berta Caceres’ family.  Leaving from Marcala, La Paz, where we had visited campesinos from the CNTC,  we were already in the area in which the Lenca indigenous people’s communities and descendants are a majority. The indigenous word Lenca means something like “a place of many waters” in English and it is a land of rivers flowing down from breathtaking mountains
 covered in Honduran pine mixed with flowering plants and cultivations of coffee and small land holdings of corn and beans.  At the time of the Spanish conquest the Lenca were one of the larger groups of indigenous people in the region and were  concentrated in the Southwestern region of Guaymara - eventually renamed Honduras by the Spanish. Their resistance to the conquest, led by their most important leader Lempira,  is celebrated like that of Cuahtemoc in Mexico.
Lempira was killed during the final Lencan  uprising of 1537-1538. After the conquest, tens or even hundreds of thousands were eliminated by violence, slavery, and disease.  This history does not feel so distant given both the ongoing violent attacks on the communities and their tenacious resistance in the region today in defense of the waters of the rivers that are threatened by hydroelectric projects involving international and national companies, land grabbing by the regional and national oligarchy, and the murders of the defenders themselves such as the March 2, 2016 murder of Berta Caceres. Just a few days after we left Marcala itself would be the site of the murder of another environmental community activist associated with COPINH. Lesbia Yaneth Urquía was murdered and her body found in a trash dump on July 7th. Five members or supporters of COPINH have been murdered since 2013 when the struggle against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project intensified (Justo Soto, Nelson Garcia, Tomas Garcia, Berta Caceres, Lesbia Yaneth Urquía) 

After a few hours in a bus bumping down a dirt highway we arrived in La Esperanza where a municipal festival of “Mushrooms and Wine” was underway in the small plaza in front of the cathedral. As is usual, the Honduran local and national authorities claim as their own the legacy of Lempira. Honduran currency bears his name and there is a lot of advertising  of “eco-tourism on the Lencan Trail”, but the real spirit of rebellion is also present. In  La Esperanza there are murals and graffiti throughout the small city celebrating and mourning  Berta’s life and death and denouncing the Honduran state and police.   

Graffitti on muncipal building
"JOH Assassin"
Berta’s mother, Doña Austra Bertha Flores, lives in the family home not far from the old colonial center area of La Esperanza. There is now a National Police presence in front of the house to fulfill the obligation of the Honduran government to protect Berta Caceres and her family who are in receipt of an order for protective measures from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Of course everyone recognizes the irony of government protection when so many believe that the Honduran government is involved in the violence.

In Berta's case it wasn't until July 8, 2016 that the Honduran government finally conceded publicly that it had not provided the required protection to Berta prior to her assassination. At the family home, the on-duty policeman got out of his car and looked us over as Doña Austra Bertha Flores (Mama Berta) came out of the house to greet us and again when we left the house.  She is an articulate, strong woman who has her own history of activism and service to the communities, having been a midwife for many years, as well as a mayor and a governor, known for having a position in defense of the Lenca communities and the poor in Honduras. She showed us the small altar dedicated  to Berta in the house and spoke sadly, but proudly of her daughter. She spoke firmly and with determination outlined the continued demands of the Flores/Caceres family for an independent international based investigation of the assassination, and an end to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project.
Mama Bertha with
La Voz members

Mama Bertha also strongly denounced the fact that the government and its investigators have never shared information or included the family in the investigation and strongly reiterated the family’s position that the investigation will not be complete, even if the gunmen and most proximal guilty are jailed, until all the intellectual authors of the crime are identified and brought to justice as well. 

At the time we were in Honduras the introduction of the Berta Caceres Human Rights Act in the U.S. Congress on June 14th was reverberating in the Honduran media, augmented by a June 21st Guardian article  exposing  the fact that Honduran military special units circulated an order to assassinate a  “kill list” of activists including Berta Caceres before her death. To date, three of the four men arrested for Berta’s murder are military - one an active duty officer in the Armed Forces, although the government has denied that there is or was a hit list. The Berta Caceres Act would cut off US security aid to the national police and military, and require a "No" vote on multilateral developmental loans until the government of Honduras meets a series of conditions for investigating and ending human rights crimes. Doña Austra Bertha expressed her strong support for this proposal and her personal thanks to the members of Congress and solidarity activists pushing the Act forward. 

COPINH was founded in 1993 and consolidated its program based on indigenous values and a radical vision of the future in 1995.  From the beginning COPINH emphasized both local community organizing and the importance of a strong, diverse mass movement to fundamentally change Honduras. It has also always been internationalist, seeking and offering solidarity with struggles around the world. In Honduras COPINH is centered in  organized community base organizations in the Lenca region (at least 200 exist now) with a program for autonomy, against racism, against patriarchy, for gender diversity including LGBTI people and for  sustainability and life opposed to the death and destruction of the present. capitalist and imperialist system. 
Mural at Utopía 
COPINH has made their ideas concrete with the construction of an organizational center and meeting space called Utopía just outside of La Esperanza; a women’s refuge, and their office and radio stations. The La Voz de los de Abajo group arrived at Utopía later in the afternoon of June 26th.  We spoke with Tina, a COPINH member who is one of the people who keeps Utopía up and running on a daily basis and later with a leader from the Rio Blanco community along with a member of COPINH’s coordinating committee, Asunción, and COPINH’s communication coordinator Gaspar Sanchez.
La Voz members at Utopía

They had all only recently returned from  traveling outside the country to present COPINH’s case on Berta’s assassination to solidarity organizations and legal entities in Europe and Costa Rica.  Utopía  has meeting halls, dormitories, a kitchen, — decorated with beautiful murals and slogans that reflect Lencan culture and the people’s struggles. It includes land that has been planted with corn and beans and a few head of cattle graze around the building. A larger meeting shelter outside the main building is under construction because the meeting halls inside are not large enough for the people’s assemblies. COPINH uses popular assemblies as the key part of their decision making process. The next morning when the General Coordinator Tomas Gomez Membreño arrived he explained that COPINH has the vision of making Utopía a more sustainable collective agricultural project as well as a center for training and gatherings. 

Tomas also had just returned to Honduras from a speaking tour in the United States, including Chicago and Washington DC. The next day as he showed us more COPINH projects including the women’s refuge, main office and one of the radio stations. While he drove us he talked some about the history of racism in the region. La Esperanza is really a dual city which includes La Esperanza and the city of Intíbuca. According to some histories these cities originally corresponded with closely related Mayan and Lenca communities that were, along with the entire region, seized by the Spanish crown. During the 19th Century the area slowly drew in more businesses and ranchers from outside the Lenca area and from Guatemala and El Salvador this new elite founded La Esperanza. Meanwhile, as Tomas explained, The city of Intíbuca remained more indigenous and poorer, with its residents discriminated against to the present day. These kinds of conditions greatly influenced the founding of COPINH and its principles of autonomy.

At the women’s shelter we met with another long time leader in COPINH, Lillian, who explained the importance of COPINH’s feminism and anti-patriarchal stance not being in words only but also in action.
The women’s shelter is an impressive apartment complex with around 8 complete apartments (each with its own kitchen and bathroom) as well as a communal kitchen and meeting rooms. Women fleeing domestic violence or other difficult situations can find not only shelter but also emotional support. Lilian told us that COPINH organizes women’s encounters (in which men are asked to do all the cooking and childcare so that women can fully participate). Their plan for the center, for which they are looking for solidarity funding, include to have full-time healthcare staff for psychological and physical health, educational projects and more. 
"No Patriarchy"
"My body is my territory"

When we got to COPINH’s office and the site of one of their radios (Radio Guarajambala)  we found La Abuelita (the Grandmother) Doña Pascualita on the air, with another compañera,  talking about women’s contributions to their communities and to the organization COPINH. We were invited to say a few words about our organization, the solidarity movement and other things going on in the US.
La Abuela Pascualita on the air

 Later Gaspar interviewed La Voz member Jenine, who is active in the Palestinian community in Chicago, about the Palestinian struggle. She took the opportunity to denounce the members of the Honduran oligarchy of Palestinian descent probably 5 of the 8-10 oligarchic families, including the Atala family who are involved in the Agua Zarca project and the Faccusse family that is the largest landowning family and dominates the Aguan Valley. She called them out as not representing the Palestinian people who understand very well the role of elites who betray the people.
Gaspar Sanchez interviews Jenine
with interpreter
Since the death of Berta, COPINH leaders as well as her daughters Berta, Olivia Marcela and Laura Yolanda have been non-stop traveling across Honduras but also internationally, advocating for pressure on the Honduran government to allow an internationally based investigation of the assassination and to end the Agua Zarca project.  One of the focuses of COPINH is on how to deal with the Honduran government's refusal to allow the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to head up an independent investigation of the assassination. This has been one of the key demands of the family and of COPINH since the assassination. Berta’s death and the demands of seeking justice for her and defending COPINH from the blatant attempts to destroy it as an organization, have taken a toll on the organization and its leaders but they made it clear that they are strong and united as an organization, unblinking in the face of the attacks and dedicated to the vision of COPINH. Berta Caceres was murdered but that murder spread her spirit and as the slogan goes — “she didn’t die, she multiplied”.
Mural in Utopía

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Honduras: “We will never abandon the struggle for truth and justice"

Today, July 7th, news has just arrived of the murder of yet another COPINH activist involved in the struggle against mega-projects in the region of La Paz and Intibuca in which ruling party officials such as the Vice President of the National Congress, Gladys Aurora are involved. Lesbia Yaneth Urquía Urquí was found beaten to death near Marcala, La Paz where she lived. Copinh has issued a statement reiterating communnity opposition to these destructive megaprojects and placing responsibility for the murders of Lesbia Yaneth on the Honduran government as a continuation of the State violence that has cost the lives of other COPINH members including the General Coordinador Berta Cáceres. We publish below an interview with Berta's daughter Berta Zúniga by journalist Giorgio Trucchi on July 4th. The original Spanish interview is available here
Photo Giorgio Trucchi

Interview with Bertha Zúniga, four months after the assassination of her mother, the indigenous leader Berta Cáceres.

By Giorgio Trucchi I LINyM

On the night of this past March 2nd, on the outskirts of the city of La Esperanza in western Honduras, the indigenous leader and coordinator of Copinh, Berta Cáceres, was felled by assassin bullets from those who wanted to silence her commitment and struggle against the extractive model that privatizes and plunders the public resources provided by nature . Four months later, her daughter Bertha says that there are still a lot of things missing in order to guarantee truth and justice.

  • Four months after the assassination of your mother, how is the struggle going so that this crime doesn’t remain in impunity?
It has been four intense and difficult months, not only the emotional impact of such a great loss, but also because of all the barriers we have encountered on the path towards profound justice and truth. We have confronted diverse obstacles, mainly created by the State of Honduras. 

Four months after the assassination of my mommy they continue to exclude us from the investigations and we do not have access to any information. The detentions that have occurred seem to be a reaction by the State to try and get out from under the strong pressure that has been generated at the national and international level. There is no doubt that the intellectual authors of the crime are still free. 

In addition to demanding access to information, our family as well as Copinh (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) want to see something that indicates that they are really taking steps to guarantee justice, for example, stopping the hydroelectric project of Agua Zarca, analyzing all the factors and elements that led to the death of my mommy, what relation is there between her death and the attempt to stop the struggle of Copinh. 

But not everything is negative. There is a world wide mass clamor demanding justice that has been a determining factor for achieving some victories. If there have been detentions involving employees of the company Desarrollo Energéticos S.A. (DESA) and active duty military, in a country where the rate of impunity is extremely high, it is because there has been a strong mass pressure and many expressions of solidarity with our family and with Copinh. 

  • The Global Action campaign by Copinh on June 15 was a total success. 

It was a collective action that transcended borders and was a complete success. The response was impressive. In at least 30 cities in 20 countries around the world there were well attended actions in front of the Honduran Embassies or in public places. There was a lot of participation and a marked creativity. It helped support, at the worldwide level, the demands of our family and of Copinh to create an independent and impartial investigative commission  through the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights), and to definitively close the Agua Zarca project. 

  • It is a demonstration of a great appreciation of Berta’s and Copinh’s struggle. 

It is, and it is mixed with deep feelings of indignation and the active desire of many people to do something in light of this crime. These are very important spaces for our family and for Copinh, as voices that tirelessly push the demand for justice. 

This is why, with Copinh, we are launching a “world wide Twitter storm” for July 4th with the hashtag #JusticiaParaBerta #4MesesSinJusticia #ComisionIndependienteYa. 

  • What have been the most difficult moments?
We have confronted institutions that, rather than imparting justice, are characterized by high levels of impunity. They have closed off access to information and continue to see the case of my mother in a very limited manner, without an integral vision, and at all costs reducing the magnitude of her assassination. Furthermore, the investigation has shown many irregularities and this feeds the lack of confidence in it. 

The State has not reacted to the proposal to form an independent investigative commission. Two months ago the IACHR declared that it is in favor of the proposal and is available, but the State of Honduras has not even mentioned this possibility. 

What reigns only and always is silence towards the victims. 

  • What impression does this silence give you? 
We have never hidden our conviction about the burden of responsibility that the State has in the assassination of my mother. Obviously the State is not going to investigate itself, much less investigate its own negligence in the case. 

But we also believe that it is about a contest of strength between the social and peoples’ movements and the political and economic oligarchy in the country which is represented by the State institutions. 

If this remains in impunity they will continue to murder many more people. 

  • What is happening with DESA and the Agua Zarca project?
The company has tried to wash its hands of everything having to do with the assassination of my mother. In all its communiques it leaves out the company name DESA, signing instead as the Proyecto Hidroelétrico Agua Zarca (The Aguan Zarca Hydroelectric Project). Despite the project being half-suspended we know that DESA does not intend to close it. 

A few days ago on a television program on a national channel the guest was an engineer from DESA. For more that an hour she spoke about the benefits of hydroelectric energy, of how fantastic the Agua Zarca project will be for the Lenca community while criminalizing the struggle of Copinh. 

She said that there are only about 20 people against the project and that those who oppose Agua Zarca do not have to be recognized as a legitimate entity representing a belligerent party in the conflict. 

It is evident that this is about a strategy to clean up the image of DESA and weaken Copinh. The most shameful thing is that they didn’t, at any moment, refer to the assassination of my mother. 

  • A mission from the Dutch bank FMO, one of the principal funders of the Agua Zarca project, arrived in the project zone to gather opinions from the communities. What information do you have about this visit?
To date, the mission has not put out any public report. There was a previous pronouncement that they were withdrawing from the investment but we don’t know what exactly that means. 

We have information that they may triangulate the money to be able to continue to finance the project. This concerns us. Meanwhile we continue the strong campaign against any type of financing for Agua Zarca. 

  • And how is Copinh?
Copin has suffered a hard blow and it has been difficult to recover the dynamics of the work to channel all the indignation that the assassination has generated in the communities. It is recuperating after this blow and it is again setting the scenario for the struggle even though aggression against the organization is growing. 

There is much enthusiasm and great firmness. Today, more than ever, there is a strong commitment to continue and to strengthen the struggle at the community level.

  • These have been difficult months for you, your sisters and brother, the family, for Copinh. Have you been able to maintain a certain amount of balance between the before and after of your mother’s assassination?

They have been very complicated months and we have found ourselves doing things that we never planned to do, things that we never thought could happen. But the lessons from our mother have been very important. They inculcated us with the values to continue on this path, and I have tried to maintain a certain balance even though it has not been easy. 

Last week I finished my semester evaluations at the university in México where I lived at the moment of the assassination. I was very far behind but I did it. I will return to Mexico to continue my studies, but without leaving the struggle. 

Wherever we are,  we will never abandon the struggle. Even though our life has taken an unexpected turn, we continue with the enthusiasm and energy of my mother.

Source: LINyM
Mural in honor of Berta Cáceres
in the city of La Esperanza - photo V. Cervantes

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