A large crowd in Honduras has accompanied the body of Berta Cáceres to its final resting place amid calls for justice over this week’s killing of the indigenous leader and environmental activist.
Many of those carrying Cáceres’ coffin on their shoulders through the dusty streets of La Esperanza on Saturday were Lenca indigenous people for whose rights she had fought. Drummers pounded out Afro-Honduran rhythms as mourners chanted “The struggle goes on and on” and “Berta Cáceres is present, today and forever.”
The crowd marched more than 10km (6m) from Cáceres’ mother’s home to a chapel where a Mass was celebrated in her memory, and then to the cemetery in La Esperanza about 300km east of the capital. Her four daughters and her ex-husband were among the procession.
“Forgive me, Bertita,” said Salvador Zuniga, Cáceres’ former husband. “Forgive me for not understanding your greatness.”
The previous evening, Austra Flores said she hoped that her daughter’s murderwill not go unpunished and that international attention will pressure Honduran authorities to find those responsible.
Cáceres, 45, who was awarded the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her role in fighting a dam project, had complained of death threats from police, the army and landowners’ groups. She was killed early on Thursday by gunmen who broke into her home and shot her four times.
“My mother died because she defended the land and rivers of her country,” Cáceres’ daughter Olivia said.
Gustavo Castro Soto, a Mexican human rights activist, was also wounded in the attack. Justice minister Julian Pacheco said Soto survived the shooting by playing dead after gunfire grazed his cheek and left hand. Soto is considered a protected witness whose testimony is key to solving the killing.
Pacheco said two suspects have been detained for questioning, including a neighbourhood private security guard. Authorities have not said what role they may have played in her killing.
President Juan Orlando Hernandez said authorities were investigating Caceres’ killing with assistance from the United States.
US ambassador James Nealon said at the funeral: “We have asked for a rapid and exhaustive investigation so the full weight of the law is applied to those responsible.”
Foreign minister Arturo Corrales vowed on Friday in a meeting with diplomats that justice would be done, saying that “there is abundant information to solve the case.”
According to the website of the Goldman Environmental Prize, Cáceres “waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.”
It said the project threatened to “cut off the supply of water, food and medicine for hundreds of Lenca people and violate their right to sustainably manage and live off their land.”
IN MEMORY OF HONDURAN ACTIVIST
Hypocrisy surrounds the murder of Berta Cáceres in Honduras
Friday 4 March 2016
In a grim prelude to International Women’s Day on Saturday 5 March, the celebrated Honduran indigenous and environmental rights campaigner Berta Cáceres has been murdered in Honduras, barely a week after she was threatened for opposing a hydroelectric project (International outrage at murder of activist, 4 March).
She is the latest in a long line of victims in Honduras since a coup, sponsored by the US and supported by the then secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, overthrew the reformist President Mel Zelaya in 2009. Human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, trade unionists, gay rights activists and political opponents of subsequent regimes have been singled out for abduction, disappearance, torture and murder in a climate of almost complete impunity.
Particularly shocking is a femicide rate that increased by 260% between 2005 and 2013. In 2014, 513 women were killed and in 2015 it was estimated that a woman lost her life every 16 hours. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, impunity “perpetuates the social acceptance of violence against women”.
In this context, it is hypocrisy of the first order for President Hernández to say that Ms Cáceres’ demise has “caused mourning among all Hondurans”. He himself has been accused of swindling millions of dollars from the cash-starved public health fund to bankroll his election campaign and on his watch transnational companies, such as those against whom Ms Cáceres was campaigning, have trashed the environment and exploited their workers.
Meanwhile, US ambassador James Nealon is on record as saying that relations with Honduras are “perhaps the best they have ever been”.
International officer, GMB
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