Organized by Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) who also co-organized a Dear Colleague Letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for a full independent investigation of the assassination, Laura Zúñiga Cáceres gave her account of events leading up to the assassination of her mother Berta Cáceres.
The event held at the Rayburn House Office Building also included Cáceres’ colleague Gaspar Sánchez member of the Council of Popular Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) who coordinates LGBTQ Rights, Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director, Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), and Annie Bird formerly of Rights Action who met the late Berta Cáceres in the course of her work observing human rights and documenting human rights abuses in Honduras. Bird has also received death threats stemming from her work there.
We have included Laura Zúñiga Cáceres’ message in its complete form but voiced-over in English:
“Thank you everybody for being here today. We’ll cover something very important. I’m going to start the same way I do when I talk about my mom. My mom was a fighter for the rights of indigenous people, their right to the land and the defense of their culture. She was a fighter for life, as she would say. This is why, for her guidance, for her story and for her legacy is why I’m encouraged to continue this and to live this despite my pain. I lived with her during her last months when also in my country there were the murders of four Tolupan indigenous people due to land conflicts in the northeast of the country. She had received very many threats from 2013 until her death. She had received 33 threats related to her struggles, especially the one against a project that violated indigenous rights, the Agua Zarca dam carried out by a company called DESA (Energy Development). There was little willingness from the state to investigate these 33 threats. They did not investigate any of them. There was even the capture of hitmen with high caliber weapons, which is illegal, who had previously been denounced as murderers. In particular, one hitman was captured and was freed 6 hours later. He was freed by the company, specifically he was freed by the company’s chief of security. We know this because we live in a small town, and in small towns you hear everything. A few weeks earlier the threats against my mom had increased. She had told me about some and did not want to tell me about others. But she urgently wanted us to leave the country. That is why I left on March 1st, the day before she was killed. The last words my mom told me were that if I heard that something had happened to her that I shouldn’t fear, that in the country where we lived anything could happen to anybody and that I shouldn’t be afraid.
Despite all her bravery, her high profile, she won the Goldman prize in 2015, she met with the Pope, she was recognized worldwide for her work and even then she was assassinated. This means that any of us can be murdered in Honduras. Because of her work she also had cautionary measures since 2009, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the Honduran State decided to meet with her to apply the measures, which were not sufficient. She asked for private security that was not given to her because the State said that was too much for her situation. She asked for cameras and they gave her two cameras that were not in working order and were not useful in investigating her murder because they did not record. They gave her a police escort for her long distance trips. But the police officers were the same that were assigned to DESA. They even mentioned to her their unwillingness to respect human rights. They would say that they could wipe their… with human rights, I can’t say it here, but it was along those lines. They would accompany her to different places, but would be offended by the food they were offered because it was the same food that indigenous people ate. These were the insufficient and inefficient protection measures that the Honduran state offered her, and this is why today I have to be here talking about my mother’s murder.
In addition, after her murder we have been denied all access to information. What’s more, yesterday they again denied us our recourse that we as family, as victims of that murder have, a right to information. Thus, there’s a fence that the Honduran government has raised because they won’t tell us what they are investigating. The little that we know, because they won’t tell us anything, but that we learn from the media is that the scene of the crime was manipulated. Our right to have an expert to oversee the autopsy was denied to us. Thus, we don’t know what the status of the autopsy is because they haven’t let us see it. Also, the only witness, Gustavo Castro has been submitted to much psychological torture because they left him 24 hours with the same bloody clothes. They don’t let him sleep. They don’t let him go to his country or see anybody, not even us as Berta’s family. He wanted to see us and talk to us. He has not received psychological care. They force him to travel long distances several times from my town to the capital city. We’re worried about the health of the only witness, who besides being a witness, we value his guidance because he’s also a defender of life.
Also, the only line of investigation that was conducted during the first week is that it was an inside job of Copinh, her murder, when they should have been following the leads from all the threats she had received in the last few years, something that hasn’t been done. Before they picked up my mother’s body, while it was still lying on the ground, the minister of security gave a statement saying it was a crime of passion. Thus, we can see the little willingness in the part of the Honduran State to give us access and participation in the investigation. Because of the lack of trust that we have, we have asked for an independent commission made up of experts with the proper background and whom we trust, so that they can investigate and help us learn something, to gain a bit of justice in the middle of this pain and this loss, which is a loss for humanity too.
Because of my mother’s work we as a family and as Copinh received cautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. We met with the minister of security and with the minister of government and we presented our security plan because we felt that what they did for my mom was insufficient, and we don’t trust the police nor military institutions to protect us. We met with them and to date have not received any response. We asked for simple things. We asked for a panic button. We asked for private security and cameras. We asked that in long distance travel, to be accompanied by police. We also asked that the hydroelectric project Agua Zarca be cancelled because it was a source of threats not only for my mom, but for Copinh and the local communities.
They have not listened to us. We asked to talk to the attorney general and to the president and they have not listened to us. The one who gives statements about my mom’s case is the minister of foreign relations and he gives them to the international community not to us. There’s no international commission in the country with a mandate to investigate. This is something that will be further explained by Viviana. What is important and should be clear is that we’re still being persecuted, we’re still being harassed, we’re still being intimidated, and that the Honduran state has done absolutely nothing to protect us just like it did nothing to protect our mother’s life, who was also someone who cared for the world. Today, we have one less person caring for life. The world lost Berta Cáceres. That should pain all of us. Thank you for listening to me.
and Annie Bird: