Quito A highlight of the Americas meeting of ACORN International organizers in Quito was a visit with Olivia Zuniga Caceres, the oldest daughter of Berta Caceres, the indigenous, land protection and environmental activist assassinated in Honduras hardly three months ago. Olivia was in Quito to give a talk about the ongoing struggle and accept an award in her mother’s name from a human rights organization in Ecuador. We were fortunate that she was able to sneak away for a bit to visit with us about the fight, express solidarity with ACORN’s organizing in Honduras, and receive the same from ACORN International in this difficult, deadly and continuing campaign.
In many ways Berta Caceres’ story is too common in Latin America still and almost routine in Honduras. As the New York Times noted:
Since a 2009 coup in Honduras, journalists, judges, labor leaders, human rights defenders and environmental activists have been assassinated in targeted killings, with their murders often going unsolved. Twelve environmental defenders were killed in Honduras in 2014, according to research by Global Witness, which makes it the most dangerous country in the world, relative to its size, for activists protecting forests and rivers.
In fact another leader of Berta’s organization, the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, had also been killed by a Honduran solider during a peaceful protest in 2013. Various international commission’s and human rights organizations had demanded protection for Berta and in receiving the prestigious Goldman Environmental award in 2015 she had talked about the constant hiding and harassment she was experiencing.
The outline of the backstory for those unfamiliar was in her obituary:
Ms. Cáceres, 44, had led a decade-long fight against a project to build the Agua Zarca Dam along the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to the Lenca people. The campaign involved filing legal complaints against the project, organizing community meetings and bringing the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
That description is inadequate to describe the intensity of the struggle fought to prevent construction of the dam, which included blocking access to construction crews for over a year, sufficient to force out the Chinese partner in the project. Unfortunately, the Honduran business interests were adamant and shifted their work to the other side of the river, less accessible to the protestors, and work continues on the dam.
Olivia Caceres was clear that she and other members of the organization have not relented in the fight. International law requires indigenous interests be consulted before such construction. That was not done and is still being resisted. We discussed where we could assist on an upcoming visit to publicize the fight in the United States that she is making in July as well as where other ACORN affiliates around the world might intersect with her. Her remarks about ACORN and the work and support in Honduras were humbling and inspiring.
Our work is hard, but rarely in our daily labor to we have to assess the risk of life and death faced by this organization, its members and leaders in a seemingly lawless situation with government posturing and inaction, proving once again why we all so desperately need to support and stand with each other.