Today marks 7 years since the assassination of visionary Indigenous and social movement leader Berta Cáceres. Berta was tenacious and unflinching in the face of powerful forces of oppression and destruction. She was deeply committed to solidarity and movement building. Her murder was condemned around the world and her life and legacy continues to be celebrated and honored.
Despite the widespread clamor for justice for Berta, that has yet to be accomplished. Eight people have been found guilty — including two SOA graduates and one West Point graduate — but those who paid for her murder have yet to be prosecuted. Furthermore, the concession of the sacred Gualcarque River which Berta was murdered for defending has not been cancelled. As COPINH writes in its statement commemorating the 7th anniversary of Berta’s sowing:
“Even though the irregularities and corruption of the concession on the Gualcarque River have been proven, and the connection of the Atala Zablah family and their employees with the violence and murder of Berta Cáceres has been proven, this same family still maintains the rights to the concession and permits to exploit the Gualcarque River for 50 years. We demand this concession be cancelled responsibly and immediately.”
Honduras has a new, reform-oriented government that seeks to at least partially address the violent plundering of the country ushered in by the 2009 SOA-graduate led coup. However, the economic elite who benefited from the state repression and privatization of natural resources during the post-coup period amassed unparalleled resources, wealth and power. They continue to have influence over Honduran state institutions, including the Attorney General’s office. Furthermore, they have been backed every step of the way by the United States, which has opposed even the most basic of the new government’s economic reforms. The Honduran government’s efforts to improve the labor law or renegotiate over-priced energy contracts have resulted in U.S. threats and opposition. The U.S. has made it abundantly clear that it stands on the side of corporate interests and not that of the Indigenous and campesino communities demanding the cancellation of corporate concessions.
Berta never hesitated to call out the nefarious role of the United States. When she won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, she used her subsequent meetings with U.S. Congresspeople to not only call for the U.S. to end military aid to Honduras but also to oppose the Alliance for Prosperity, an initiative led by then-Vice President Biden to purportedly address migration from the region. Berta made clear it supported corporate plundering and militarization. Today, the Biden Administration has massively expanded that failed policy with its ironically-titled “U.S. Strategy to Address the Root Causes of Migration,” which again increases U.S. support for corporations and the economic elites.
Nowhere has the continued operation of criminal structures to benefit the economic elite in Honduras been more clear than the Aguan Valley, where numerous campesino leaders and water defenders have been killed this year alone. The murders remain in impunity and the Honduran government has yet to comply with the agreement it signed with the campesino organizations. Berta enjoyed a close relationship with the campesino movements in the Aguan Valley, which were targeted by intense military and paramilitary operations. In February 2012, Berta helped sound the alarm about the murders in the Aguan by supporting the organizing of the International Gathering in Solidarity with the Aguan, which brought international attention to the systemic murder of dozens of campesinos defending their right to land. The movements in the Aguan returned the solidarity to Berta and COPINH, showing up during some of the most difficult moments of persecution she faced in 2013.
Solidarity between movements was key to Berta’s organizing as was her clear and expansive vision for how to build a just world. Berta also challenged misogyny and patriarchy both personally and politically. She was defamed and persecuted, but kept her head up and pushed forward, demanding the rights of the Lenca people and so many others. In the midst of dark and difficult situations, Berta found laughter, joy, and camaraderie. We remember and honor her today and always.
Berta vive, la lucha sigue. Berta lives, the struggle continues.