A Companion Lost from the Struggle for Human Rights: We Honor Berta Caceres

Earlier today we received word that Berta Caceres, a tireless leader of the movement for rights of indigenous peoples in Honduras, had been murdered during the night. She co-founded the human rights organization COPINH (the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) in 1993 and spoke out bravely through the years in defense of indigenous peoples’ rights, their lands and their livelihoods. She was honored last year with the award of the Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco, California.

Our activities in support of indigenous communities in Colombia has brought to us many of the same issues as those Berta faced: a government which has promoted the activities of multinational corporations whose actions threaten the environment and the ancestral lands of the indigenous; failure to carry out prior consultation with indigenous communities concerning development projects which threaten them, although such consultation is required by international legal principles; and failure to protect indigenous leaders from threats when they raise objections to the harmful policies being pursued by government and private industries. Although we did not know Berta Caceres personally, we recognize in her leadership what is most vital to peace and justice in her land, and a model for us in our work.

We are deeply concerned about the attitude the United States Government has taken towards popular struggles in Honduras. When President Mel Zelaya, who had seriously discussed Berta’s work and goals with her, was forced out of the country by a coup d’etat in 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to recognize that President Zelaya was forced out by a coup and collaborated with the Honduran opposition in promoting formation of a post-coup government. The post-coup government has instituted repression on such a scale that Honduras today leads the Western Hemisphere in murders and violence on a per capita basis. We call upon the Obama Government to reverse its policies in Honduras and to urge the government in Tegucigalpa to enshrine indigenous rights and those of the popular movements seeking to protect their lands and traditions. And we honor the great work of Berta Caceres and pledge never to forget her strong, principled stand for human rights.

Colombia Support Network
Madison, Wisconsin
March 4, 2016

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