"Her spirit lives in all the rivers of Honduras and the world"
The Honduran authorities also see COPINH, the Indigenous rights organization Berta founded, as a threat. They appear to be doing everything possible to destroy it. They have tried their best to pin the crime of Berta’s murder on COPINH members, implying that there must have been an internal struggle for power within the organization. Gustavo Castro, the Mexican environmentalist who is the sole witness to the attack and who was also shot, says that the authorities never questioned him about people associated with DESA, the company whose Agua Zarca dam project Berta resisted and from whom she believed she was getting death threats, or about Honduran police, who have harassed her in the past. Instead, they have questioned him about COPINH members. 8 of COPINH’s 9 coordinators in the town where Berta was murdered have been interrogated for up to 12 hours at a time, one was jailed for 48 hours and then released without charges, COPINH’s radio station and women’s shelter have been under surveillance, and Berta’s daughter has been followed by both plainclothes and armed men.
Since Berta’s assassination on March 3, Nelson García, another active member of COPINH, was murdered by gunshot on March 15 after returning home to his family. He had spent the morning with the indigenous Lenca community of Río Chiquito, where over 100 police and military officers violently evicted 150 families from their land, tearing down their houses, burning their crops and killing their farm animals, leaving them without livelihoods. Killing COPINH leaders is just the tip of the iceberg; hundreds of campesinos have been murdered by security guards, police or military since the 2009 coup.
In the midst of this intensifying repression, COPINH and other parts of the social movement in Honduras have intensified their resistance. Their movement has been re-energized. On March 17 and 18, COPINH, accompanied by the Garifuna organization OFRANEH and by small farmers, held a huge mass mobilization in Tegucigalpa. After police stopped the buses the groups were on, they walked to Tegucigalpa to participate. One of OFRANEH’s leaders, Miriam Miranda, who was CRLN’s 2011 Luncheon speaker, declared: “Berta is not dead. Her spirit lives in all of the rivers of Honduras and the world that are threatened by a backwards idea of development that favors the blood-thirsty political and business elite, whose antiquated vision calls the death of rivers ‘clean energy.’ We have walked alongside Berta on many paths and the struggle to defend our territories and cultures in the face of the devastating aggression of neoliberalism has been one of our most important bonds. They want to convert the natural resources on indigenous lands into commodities to be auctioned off, without any consent from our peoples, whom they see just as statistics who can be dismissed.”
Berta’s death was also a wake-up call to international allies of the movement she led. 730 Latin America scholars signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry decrying impunity in Honduras and urging him to demand accountability for human rights violations. CRLN and 250 other organizations signed onto a letter to Sec. Kerry calling for an independent international investigation into Berta’s murder; protective measures for Berta’s family and for Gustavo Castro, the sole witness to the murder; and an end to U.S. military and police aid for Honduras, among many other requests. CRLN helped get 62 Representative - 5 from Illinois (Bustos, Davis, Gutierrez, Quigley and Schakowsky)-- to sign onto another letter to Sec. Kerry and Treasury Sec. Jack Lew, initiated by Reps. Keith Ellison and Hank Johnson, which called additionally for putting pressure on the Honduran government to close the Agua Zarca dam that Berta opposed and review any U.S. funding or support for projects that undermine indigenous land rights.
For an excellent early overview of the issues surrounding Berta’s assassination, listen to Jerome McDonnell’s interview with Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle. For an interview with Berta's daughters and son by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, click here.