By Porfirio Quintano on May 29, 2016 1:00 am
Just one year ago, I had a joyous reunion in San Francisco with a high school classmate from my native Honduras. Social justice campaigner Berta Caceres came to the Bay Area to receive the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership among indigenous people opposed to mining and the construction of hydroelectric dams that would destroy their communities.
Unfortunately, in a time when Honduras has grown ever more violent and repressive since its 2009 military coup, Berta’s continued activism and global recognition put a bullseye on her back. On March 3, she was killed by gunmen in her hometown of La Esperanza, not far from where I grew up before emigrating to the United States two decades ago.
This tragedy added Berta’s name to the long list of recent Honduran political martyrs — students, teachers, journalists, lawyers, LGBT community members, labor and peasant organizers and even top civilian investigators of drug trafficking and corruption. More than 100 environmental campaigners have been killed in the last five years. This carnage, along with escalating gang violence, has led many Hondurans to flee the country, often arriving in the U.S. as unaccompanied minors or mothers with small children.
The world learned recently that four people have been arrested and charged with Berta’s assassination. The suspects include a retired military officer, an army major and two men with close ties to Desarrollos Energeticos S.A., the controversial dam builder. As The New York Times reported, Berta’s family and friends “questioned whether the investigation would ultimately lead to those who planned and ordered the killing.”
Flush with tens of millions of our tax dollars for “security assistance,” the Honduran army and national police have acted with impunity since U.S.-trained generals overthrew Manuel Zelaya, the elected president of Honduras, seven years ago. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton toed the White House line that this wasn’t really a “military coup” worthy of near unanimous condemnation by the Organization of American States. The U.S. was more concerned about maintaining its own military presence in Honduras than objecting to local human rights abuses that have increased ever since.
Today, Clinton cites her foreign policy experience and describes her run for the presidency as a “campaign for human rights.” Yet, unlike her rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton believes that youthful refugees from violence in Honduras “should be sent back” rather than welcomed and assisted on this side of the border. Today, many still face deportation while languishing in U.S. detention facilities under poor conditions and without proper legal representation — which, even Clinton agrees, they should have.