“Even though it's very hard and very painful, we have learned to fight with joy.”
- Berta Cáceres, cited this week by Canadian journalist Sandra Cuffe
Dozens of organizations from across Canada and Quebec signed a communiqué sent to Canadian politicians today, condemning the assassination of Honduran environmental justice activist Berta Cáceres and calling on the government of Canada to express repudiation at her murder and to urge the Honduran government to support an independent, international investigation into this despicable crime.
Berta Cáceres, founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) that has been fighting to protect their rivers from hydroelectric and mining developments, was killed by armed gunmen who forcefully entered her home early in the morning on Thursday March 3rd.
As if the loss of Berta - dearly loved at home and recognized around the world for her powerful leadership - were not enough, over the last five days it has become very clear that the Honduran government lacks any political will to seriously find and hold responsible Berta’s killers and the people who ordered this attack.
Rather than arrest as suspects the people that Berta had named in official complaints as being armed and out to take her life, Honduran authorities called her murder a “crime of passion” and a “robbery gone wrong” before they started investigating. Now, it seems that the line of investigation is clearly oriented to criminalize COPINH.
Meanwhile, Mexican environmental justice activist and Coordinator of Friends of the Earth Mexico, Gustavo Castro Soto, the other victim of the attack who survived and became the key witness in the investigation, has been held for questioning by Honduran authorities. While he has voluntarily cooperated with the process, there has been great fear for his life and psychological wellbeing while he remains in Honduras. Today we received news that the Honduran authorities want to hold him for yet another thirty days, despite having already given his testimony – several times – and the risk he runs for his physical and psychological wellbeing.
Berta’s assassination and the criminalization of COPINH are unfortunately an illustration of how deadly and perverse conditions have become in Honduras for women and men, Indigenous, campesino and Garífuna, struggling for environmental justice. Honduras has become the most dangerous country in Latin America to speak out and fight against injustices since the military-backed coup in 2009. Across the region, criminalization and threats against land and environment defenders has been growing.
The communiqué sent today recalls how the Canadian government has taken advantage of deteriorating conditions since the 2009 military-backed coup in Honduras. Canadian authorities gave legitimacy to a highly illegitimate post-coup government by pacting a Free Trade Agreement with Honduras that will further protect transnational corporations and make people, workers and the environment more vulnerable. The Canadian Embassy also lobbied and used overseas development aid to achieve a new mining law that lifted a seven year moratorium on new mining projects and puts mining-affected communities at risk.
In this context, and today - International Women’s Day - we honour Berta and all women and girls who bravely defend their land, water and community wellbeing in the face of industrial mines, hydroelectric dams or other mega-projects.
“Action – including action to ensure justice for her murder – is the clearest way to honour Bertha's life and memory,” wrote Canadian journalist, Sandra Cuffe early this week.
In Berta’s case, we must fight against impunity for the ruthless political and economic interests that the Honduran state is trying to protect by echoing calls for a full independent investigation with international participation; we must speak out against the criminalization of COPINH and show support for their legitimate struggles; and we need to keep responding to urgent calls for Gustavo Castro’s safety and prompt return to Mexico.
We can also honour the struggle for justice of women like Angélica Choc of Guatemala for the murder of her husband by fighting against impunity in Canada where the government continues to rely on volunteer measures for mining companies in connection with abuses at their mine operations abroad.
We can honour the struggle of Dora Recinos Sorto from El Salvador who was fighting to protect precious water supplies from the negative impacts of gold mining before she was murdered and whose country is now being sued by a Canadian-Australian company by fighting against the sort of investment agreements that enables companies to punish whole countries and that the Canadian government continues promoting today. And by standing with communities and peoples such as in Cabañas and El Salvador that are saying no to mining
And we honour the struggle for Indigenous self-determination that women like Marilyn Baptiste and Anne Marie Sam have been leading with their communities in the face of unwanted mining projects in British Columbia when we demonstrate our solidarity with communities who are saying no and demand that their decisions be respected both here and abroad, in accord with of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a minimum standard.
Finally, as Cuffe added this week in her article remembering Berta, honouring her and these strong women is also about “embracing the laughter of those everyday moments of joy and camaraderie amidst all the threats and struggles and death and hope. That joy keeps people going.” In this spirit, we carry on!