Monday - Jul 22, 2019

Criminalization of social protest and militarization of Honduras

Honduran indian líder Berta Cáceres speak to El Reportero. (PHOTO BY ORSETTA BELLANI)

by Orsetta Bellini

Interview with the indigenous leader Bertha Cáceres in Honduras, where 80 percent of the crimes go unpunished, the social movements are criminalized and prosecuted. Bellani Orsetta, a collaborator of the reporter, found and interviewed Bertha Cáceres, general coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), one of the largest human rights organizations in the central American country. In the framework of the struggle of the Lenca indigenous people against the hydroelectric water companies of Zarca company Sino-hydro and Desa, Caceres and two other members of COPINH – Tomas Gomez Membreńo and Aureliano Molina – have been accused of serious crimes.

What are the charges against you and how is the judicial process developing?

The legal persecution is only an expression of the whole political persecution against COPINH and is a defined strategy at the presidential level. We are aware that with our struggle, it is peaceful but energetic, we are confronting great and influential powers. In one of the two cases to which I was accused of carrying illegal arms to the detriment of the internal security of the State of Honduras, -The Prosecutor and the Attorney General have outlined a conciliation settlement for me. First they proposed to end the persecution against me in exchange for my indemnifying the State and apologize, assuming the gun was of my property, which of course I will not do , I did not commit any offense and I have no reason to reconcile these things. [For this case she was arrested on May 24 and for not finding sufficient evidence to prove the crime was released 21 days later with alternative measures to going to prison.]

Then, under pressure from the defense of the social movements of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, of Amnesty International and thousands of expressions of solidarity that have denounced this injustice worldwide, I was offered pay to the State all what it had spent on this process, it being my victim. At this time it is most likely that in the next hearing the trial will continue regardless of conciliation.

In the other case of which the company accuses us, that is, of continuing damage, coercion and usurpation in September issued preventive prison against me, and have set the next preliminary hearing for February 11, 2014. [In this case a warrant for her arrest hanging over Cáceres and she has declared herself politically persecuted]. Also this year they approved an amendment which provides that a person benefit from alternative measures to going to prison – as it has been in the first case in which a ban on leaving the country was imposed on me and the obligation to present myself to the court every 15 days –may not be benefited a second time in another case. When I was charged with possession of the gun in May 2013, this law was not in force, but they made retroactive and this is illegal, there is no retroactive law in Honduras.

These charges are given in the context of opposition to COPINH the hydroelectric project Water Zarca in the community of Rio Blanco, department of Intibucá. Why is the struggle of this community so important to the Honduran government?

Years ago the communities of Rio Blanco COPINH waged a struggle for the defense of the territory and of the Gualcarque River, which is a sacred river for the Lenca people. In April of 2013 we were able to remove Sinohydro / Desa, which is the largest builder of dams in the world, ours is an exercise of autonomy and territorial control. The company obtained the concession illegally in 2010 and by its links with the army pressured communities hard, not only harassed but also offering bribes and trying to manipulate the population. This indicates that the transnational do not need political intermediaries, but go directly to repress communities. Where there are intentions to build mining or hydroelectric projects there are militarization plans. The struggle of White River is a bad example for big business, because it has proved that it is possible to roll back a project of domination and privatization, it shows that it is possible to get rid of an invasive transnational and this is part of the legitimate struggle of the Lenca people.

The persecution against you seems to insert itself in a climate of criminalization of social protest that covers the whole country

The state has built repressive structures that have funding including from the Interamerican Bank of Development, under the Regional Security Plan for Central America. This is very worrying for social activists as it will deepen repression. Today it is a crime to defend human rights. Congress and the oligarchic sectors have driven the creation of the Military Police, who is working as a paramilitary structure directed against social movements. Not only do the police and intelligence apparatus work, undercover bodies and private security agencies are also operating, which are nothing more than another army looking after the interests of big business. They work together with the police and army, and double their number.