Entradas etiquetadas como Congreso de Estados Unidos

Exclusive – Paperwork, rights concerns hold up U.S. aid for Central America

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Congress approved $750 million in aid last December to help El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras combat the violence and poverty that are driving migrants towards the U.S. border, but the money has yet to reach the struggling countries.

In a departure from previous aid packages, the State Department first had to certify that the three nations had taken steps to reduce migration and human trafficking, bolster human rights and improve their justice systems.

Eight months after President Barack Obama signed a spending bill that included the funds, congressional aides told Reuters they were still waiting for the State Department certifications needed to release the money, which was budgeted for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

State has not provided its paperwork and Central American governments have not taken the required actions, congressional aides said. Lawmakers have been particularly unhappy about Honduras because of the murder of a prominent environmental activist there.

“The fiscal year 2016 funds have not been obligated because the State Department has not yet submitted a detailed plan as required by law, spelling out how, where and by whom the funds will be used, what their objectives are and how they will measure progress,” said Tim Rieser, a foreign policy aide to Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign aid.

The delay highlights the longstanding tension between Washington’s desire to promote human rights and the government’s responsibility to protect U.S. security, economic and other interests. In this case, American lawmakers are reluctant to send hundreds of millions of dollars to countries where human rights abuses remain common, despite the flood of migrants towards the U.S. border.

They want to avoid a repeat of past aid programs, in which large amounts of money sent south yielded few results.

“The results have been very disappointing. Programs were poorly conceived, the Central American governments did not do their part, and money was wasted,” Rieser said.

From October 2015 through January 2016, U.S. border patrols stopped some 45,000 Central Americans in the U.S. southwest, more than double the number during the same period a year earlier. Nearly half were unaccompanied children.

None of the countries has yet to meet all the conditions, congressional aides said, although Guatemala is further along. Honduras faces harsh criticism about human rights from lawmakers, due in part to the killing of internationally acclaimed environmentalist Berta Caceres in March.

Dozens of lawmakers have demanded an independent international investigation into her death, and Honduran authorities have arrested five suspects, including an Army officer and an employee of a company running a dam project she opposed.

A spokesman said the State Department was working to obtain congressional approval for the fiscal 2016 funds. In the meantime, he said, the department and U.S. Agency for International Development are using money from prior years to support the U.S. “Strategy for Engagement in Central America.”Guatemalan officials told Reuters they expected their funds to begin arriving between October and November.

In Tegucigalpa, a foreign ministry official who requested anonymity said Honduras has made progress fighting corruption and combating smuggling and hoped the funds would start being released later this year or early in 2017.

In San Salvador, a foreign ministry official said the government was awaiting word on the disbursement, also saying the government had made progress.

Separately, the Obama administration late last month announced the expansion of a programme to let people fleeing violence in the three countries enter the United States as refugees, and said Costa Rica agreed to shelter some of them temporarily.

(Additional reporting by Enrique Pretel in San Jose, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador and Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa; editing by John Walcott and David Gregorio)

Origen: http://in.mobile.reuters.com/article/idINKCN10M20W?irpc=932

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Why a Georgia Congressman is Fighting to Stop Security Aid to Honduras

Rep. Hank Johnson talks about the struggle for human rights and the future of U.S.-Honduras relations.

Origen: Why a Georgia Congressman is Fighting to Stop Security Aid to Honduras

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EE UU investiga a militares por lista negra de ambientalistas – Diario La Tribuna Honduras

El gobierno de los Estados Unidos investiga las alegaciones de la existencia de una lista negra de activistas circulaba en las unidades de las fuerzas especiales de los militares hondureños con instrucciones de eliminar los blancos, incluyendo Berta Cáceres, la celebrada activista ambientalista quien posteriormente fue asesinada en su casa.

Los oficiales norteamericanos han estado en contacto con sus contrapartes en el gobierno Hondureño, tanto como con individuos y grupos que monitorean los derechos humanos en el país para investigar las alegaciones de la lista negra, que fueron reportadas primero por The Guardian.

El embajador de los Estados Unidos en Honduras, James Nealon, dijo a The Guardian: “nosotros tomamos las alegaciones de abusos de los derechos humanos con extrema seriedad. Siempre tomamos acción inmediata para asegurar la seguridad de personas, donde hay una amenaza creíble”.

El Departamento de Estado revisa las alegaciones que surgen cuando un grupo de prominentes miembros del congreso renueva su llamado a la administración del presidente Obama de suspender toda la ayuda a las unidades militares y la Policía hondureña.

 

Origen: EE UU investiga a militares por lista negra de ambientalistas – Diario La Tribuna Honduras

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On Coup Anniversary, Examining the US Role in Honduras

Today marks seven years since the coup d’etat in Honduras – the day that former President Manuel Zelaya was kidnapped by the Honduran army and then flown out of the country from an air field controlled by the U.S. military. That event sent shockwaves through the region and the world and was denounced by the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the European Union. Honduras was suspended temporarily from the OAS.

Origen: On Coup Anniversary, Examining the US Role in Honduras

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Activistas piden a EUA suspender ayuda a Honduras

Los activistas piden un cesen las violaciones de derechos humanos cometidas por fuerzas de seguridad.

Chicag, Estados Unidos

Activistas pidieron hoy al senador demócrata por Illinois, Richard Durbin, que se interrumpa la ayuda económica que Estados Unidos destina a los cuerpos de seguridad de Honduras hasta que se acaben las violaciones de los derechos humanos en el país.

En un comunicado, sostienen que el legislador “guarda silencio” ante esta y otras peticiones realizadas en el pasado para que se disponga “un alto inmediato a los fondos hasta que cesen las violaciones de derechos humanos cometidas por fuerzas de seguridad” en el país centroamericano.

La Red de Líderes Religiosos de Chicago y La Voz de los de Abajo (La Voz), también de esta ciudad estadounidense, sostienen que Durbin tiene la autoridad para influir sobre la asignación de fondos al integrar los subcomités de Asignaciones de Defensa y de Estado, así como el de Relaciones Exteriores en el Congreso.

Origen: Activistas piden a EUA suspender ayuda a Honduras

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Senator Leahy: Honduras falters despite U.S. assistance

In a Letter to the Editor, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy disagrees with fellow Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s description of Honduras

Origen: Senator Leahy: Honduras falters despite U.S. assistance

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Comisión Depuradora de la Policía, se reúne con congresistas en Estados Unidos – CRITERIO

Por: Redacción CRITERIO redaccion@criterio.hn  Tegucigalpa. En una segunda jornada de reuniones celebrada este martes, los miembros de la Comisión Especial para el Proceso de Depuración y Transformación de la Policía Nacional sostuvieron este martes tres encuentros con funcionarios del gobierno de Estados Unidos. Por la mañana los depuradores se encontraron con el secretario adjunto para […]

Origen: Comisión Depuradora de la Policía, se reúne con congresistas en Estados Unidos – CRITERIO

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Buscan bloquear asistencia de EEUU a Honduras por abusos

La presentación del proyecto de ley coincidió el miércoles con la condena de la CIDH sobre el asesinato de René Martínez, un prominente defensor de la comunidad homosexual

Origen: Buscan bloquear asistencia de EEUU a Honduras por abusos

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Rep. Johnson introduces “The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act”

Congressman leads effort with five colleagues to withhold U.S. funds from Honduran police & military until gross human rights violations are addressed

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the wake of the tragic killing of the Honduran environmental and indigenous leader Berta Cáceres on March 2, 2016, Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04) introduced legislation that would suspend U.S. funding to the Republic of Honduras for their police and military operations, including funds for equipment and training, until the Honduran government investigates credible reports indicating the police and military are violating citizens’ human rights.

http://hankjohnson.house.gov/press-release/rep-johnson-introduces-%E2%80%9C-berta-c%C3%A1ceres-human-rights-honduras-act%E2%80%9D

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Congresista Hank Johnson introduce “La Ley Berta Cáceres de los derechos humanos en Honduras”

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Después del asesinato trágico de la líder hondureña Berta Cáceres el 2 de mayo, 2016, el Congresista Hank Johnson (GA-04) introdujo legislación para suspender la entrega de fondos a la República de Honduras para sus operaciones policiales y militares, incluyendo los fondos para entrenamiento y equipo militar, hasta que el gobierno hondureño investigue informes creíbles que indican que la policía y el ejército están violando los derechos humanos de sus ciudadanos.

El Departamento de Defensa de los EEUU está entregando $18 millones al gobierno hondureño en el año 2016 para asistir con la infraestructura de seguridad en el país.

“La ley Berta Cáceres de los derechos humanos en Honduras” (H.R. 5474) suspendería estos fondos- y prohibiría los préstamos internacionales para asistir con la infraestructura de seguridad en el país- a menos que Honduras haga incursiones serias para tomar medidas con respecto a las evidentes violaciones de los derechos humanos por la policía nacional y el ejército.

Defensores en linea

Origen: Congresista Hank Johnson introduce “La Ley Berta Cáceres de los derechos humanos en Honduras”

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Presentan ley en EE.UU para suspender fondos a Honduras por violaciones a los DDHH – CRITERIO

Por: Redacción CRITERIO redaccion@criterio.hn WASHINGTON –  Varios diputados estadounidenses presentaron este mièrcoles un proyecto de ley para que el Gobierno de EE.UU. retire los fondos de financiación destinados a Honduras a raíz de las últimas violaciones de derechos humanos en el país centroamericano. La iniciativa es conocida como “Ley Berta Cáceres por los Derechos Humanos”, […]

Origen: Presentan ley en EE.UU para suspender fondos a Honduras por violaciones a los DDHH – CRITERIO

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Members of Congress Urge Secretary Kerry to Push for Investigation of Murder of Honduran Human Rights Defender Berta Cáceres

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) – co-chair of a bipartisan Congressional human rights commission – and Representatives Norma J.

Origen: Members of Congress Urge Secretary Kerry to Push for Investigation of Murder of Honduran Human Rights Defender Berta Cáceres

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Murder of acclaimed activist has U.S. questioning massive Central American aid package

Feisty and stubborn, Bertha Caceres rallied her neighbors against large hydroelectric dam projects that hurt the land in her native Honduras.

Origen: Murder of acclaimed activist has U.S. questioning massive Central American aid package

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Honduras hace esfuerzos en DDHH y transparencia, requisitos del Plan Alianza: Embajador Milla

Washington – El embajador de Honduras en Estados Unidos, Jorge Milla Reyes, afirmó que Honduras está cumpliendo con los requisitos del Plan Alianza para la Prosperidad (APP) en cuanto al respeto a los derechos humanos y la transparencia.

Origen: Honduras hace esfuerzos en DDHH y transparencia, requisitos del Plan Alianza: Embajador Milla

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Death Squads Are Back in Honduras, Activists Tell Congress

Groups urging lawmakers to support an impartial investigation into the murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres compare the current situation to the early 1980s.

 

Cáceres had mobilized native communities to speak out against the Agua Zarca Dam, a hydroelectric project backed by European and Chinese corporations, before being killed by two unknown gunmen last month.

Last week, back in Honduras at a protest outside the Honduran Public Ministry in Tegulcigalpa, Sanchez unfurled a banner demanding justice for Cáceres’s murder.

When nearby soldiers saw him, they dragged him away from the crowd and brutally beat him, stopping only after the crowd of protestors came to his defense.

Sanchez is a member of the organization Cáceres founded, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). The group’s leadership believes that Sanchez’s assault was meant to send a message against speaking out internationally, and that if the crowd had not intervened, Sanchez would likely have been imprisoned.

But Honduran activists are refusing to stay silent.

Back on Capitol Hill, two days after the beating, a panel of human rights leaders hosted by Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., spoke to lawmakers about the dangers of speaking out against the U.S.-backed Honduran government.

Victor Fernandez, a prominent human rights attorney and lawyer representing the Cáceres family, insisted that her assassination was carried out by either the Honduran government or by “the paramilitary structure of companies.”

“Honduras is the victim of international theft due to its national resources,” said Fernandez, speaking through a translator. “What we have now is our natural resources — minerals, rivers, forest. Cáceres was killed because she was confronting the extractive model.”

Bertha Oliva compared the current situation to the early 1980s, when the CIA funded, armed, and trained Honduran government death squads that murdered hundreds of opposition activists.

Oliva founded the Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH, by Spanish initials) in 1981, after government forces kidnapped her husband from their home. He was never seen again.

“When we first began in 1982, we faced death squads,” said Oliva, also speaking through a translator. “Now, it’s like going back to the past. We know there are death squads in Honduras.”

In 2009, a coup toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who had long been seen as a leftist threat to the interests of international corporations. In 2008, Zelaya blocked a series of hydroelectric dam projects, citing concerns raised by native Hondurans. Less than a year after he was deposed, the new government had already approved 40 dam contracts. When the current President Juan Orlando Hernández came to power in 2013, his slogan was “Honduras is open for business.”

The coup was accompanied by a huge rise in political violence. By 2012, state security forces had assassinated more than 300 people, and 34 members of the opposition and 13 journalists had disappeared, according to data compiled by Honduran human rights organizations. The political assassinations added to the emboldened violence from gangs and drug traffickers, making Honduras one of the most dangerous countries in the world. In 2012, Reuters reported that it had the highest murder rate of any country.

Although the murder rate has since declined, political violence in Honduras has continued. Since the end of 2012, at least 22 prominent environmental activists have been killed, according to Global Witness.

Due to the Honduran government’s abysmal human rights record, critics have called on the U.S. to stop supporting the coup regime.

Citing the flow of drugs as a rationale, the U.S. government gave at least $57 million in military aid to Honduras between 2009 and 2014, not including the tens of millions of dollars spent on U.S. military contracts in Honduras. The Pentagon has not released figures for 2015 or 2016.

The U.S. military also maintains a force of more than 600 troops in Honduras, as part of a program called “Joint Task Force Bravo.” U.S. Special Forces play a large role in training their Honduran counterparts. In February, the Wall Street Journal published a video report showing Green Berets teaching Honduran soldiers how to raid homes.

The U.S. also helps maintain at least 13 military bases in the country, three of which were built after the coup, according to David Vine, author of Base Nation.

Congress has placed restrictions on military aid to countries with poor human rights records, but the State Department rarely applies them. The “Leahy Law,” for example, requires the State Department to suspend military aid to any country that it determines “has committed a gross violation of human rights.” Congress has even singled out Honduras in State Department appropriations bills, requiring the Secretary of State to withhold aid if he finds the Honduran government did not “protect the right of political opposition parties, journalists, trade unionists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists to operate without interference.” The State Department, however, is still sending aid.

Under the spending laws passed last year, Congress can withhold 50 percent of the military aid budgeted to go through the State Department.

Following Cáceres’s murder, 62 members of Congress also signed a letter calling on the administration to “immediately stop all assistance to Honduran security forces … given the implication of the Honduran military and police in extrajudicial killings, illegal detentions, torture, and other violations of human rights.” More than 200 activist organizations signed a similar letter, requesting Secretary of State John Kerry suspend military aid until an independent investigation into Cáceres’s murder is completed.

Panelists at the briefing last Thursday argued that the Honduran government should receive the condemnation, not the assistance, of foreign governments.

Fernandez, Cáceres’s lawyer, said, “This government produces so much corruption, it can’t just have subtle backing from world governments.”

When asked by The Intercept whether U.S. aid is contributing to human rights violations in Honduras, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner responded by condemning Cáceres’s murder. “We strongly condemn the murder of civil society activist Berta Cáceres,” Toner said, “and extend our deepest condolences to her family, friends, and the people of Honduras, who have lost a dedicated defender of the environment and of human rights.” The Pentagon declined to comment, deferring to the State Department’s response. 

Top photo: A youth takes part in a protest seeking justice after the murder of indigenous activist leader Berta Cáceres in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 17, 2016.

Origen: Death Squads Are Back in Honduras, Activists Tell Congress

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Congressional Briefing: “The Assassination of Berta Cáceres and Ongoing Killings and Attacks Targeting Social Activists in Honduras”

On Wednesday, March 23, Cáceres’ daughter and a COPINH activist were joined by experts on international law and megaprojects to brief U.S. congressional staff and the general public on the events surrounding Cáceres’ assassination.

Origen: Congressional Briefing: “The Assassination of Berta Cáceres and Ongoing Killings and Attacks Targeting Social Activists in Honduras”

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Senadores demócratas piden a Kerry investigación asesinato de líder hondureña

Un grupo de once senadores demócratas solicitó hoy al secretario de Estado, John Kerry, que el Gobierno estadounidense apoye una “investigación internacional y transparente” sobre el asesinato de la líder indígena hondureña Berta Cáceres.

Origen: Senadores demócratas piden a Kerry investigación asesinato de líder hondureña

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Hija de Berta Cáceres pide justicia en el Congreso de EEUU por su asesinato

Washington – La hija de la líder indígena hondureña Berta Cáceres pidió hoy en el Congreso de EEUU una investigación internacional independiente para aclarar el asesinato de su madre y el cese de la financiación para seguridad al Gobierno “corrupto” de Honduras.

Origen: Hija de Berta Cáceres pide justicia en el Congreso de EEUU por su asesinato

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Gustavo Castro Witnessed the Murder of Berta Cáceres. That Means His Life Is in Danger. – FPIF

In the face of silence from Washington, the Clinton-backed coup government in Honduras is mopping up activists for democracy and indigenous rights.

Origen: Gustavo Castro Witnessed the Murder of Berta Cáceres. That Means His Life Is in Danger. – FPIF

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Slain Honduran Activist Berta Cáceres’ Family Heads To Washington To Call For Independent Investigation

Berta Cáceres’ daughter and nephew head to Washington this week to call for a rigorous murder inquiry into the death of the prominent indigenous and environmental rights campaigner.

Origen: Slain Honduran Activist Berta Cáceres’ Family Heads To Washington To Call For Independent Investigation

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Mauricio Oliva: ‘Congreso de EEUU puede proponer cualquier medida contra Honduras’ – Noticias Cholusat Sur

ver video

El presidente del Congreso Nacional, Mauricio Oliva, aseguró que los congresistas deEstados Unidos tienen el derecho de proponer cualquier medida contra Honduras, que consideren apropiada.

Así reaccionó Oliva a la petición de un grupo de congresistas de los Estados Unidos, para que su gobierno cancele el apoyo financiero a Honduras por la inseguridad contra los defensores de causas sociales.

Al mismo tiempo resaltó el trabajo de investigación  que se realiza en Honduras en torno a la muerte de los ambientalistas, Berta Cáceres y Nelson García.

“Es un hecho que está siendo investigado a profundidad por las autoridades con el  acompañamiento internacional, porque queremos dar la mayor transparencia posible y la más contundente e irrefutable información”, señaló Oliva.

Asimismo se mostró confiado en que ambos crímenes serán esclarecidos “en su momento se sabrá quiénes son los responsables”

Oliva calificó como algo recurrente las manifestaciones de los congresistas de Estados Unidos, que tienen tendencia izquierdista, a lo que agregó: “ese es su quehacer en la política hacia Honduras”.

Sin embargo, consideró que los diputados norteamericanos merecen una aclaración, por lo que confirmó que el canciller de la República, Arturo Corrales, ya trabaja en esa labor diplomática.

“Yo creo que lo congresistas se merecen una aclaración, pero esa es función de la Cancillería y el canciller de la República (Arturo Corrales), de manera reiterada va a la capital norteamericana”.

El presidente del CN señaló que esa situación no favorece al Estado hondureño, pero se va aclarar por qué avanza tan lento el proceso, ya se está siendo muy cuidadoso con la investigación.

Situación de la DEI

Oliva lamentó que en torno al cierre de la Dirección Ejecutiva de Ingresos (DEI), haya tantas opiniones contrarias, cuando han existido quejas constantes contra el funcionamiento del ente recaudador.

“Se ha criticado el tema de la recaudación en el país, por la falta de transparencia, grupos que se organizaron al interior para estar tramitando, cobrando coimas o alterando las declaraciones”, cuestionó.

Oliva reconoció que ese proceso no ha sido fácil, pero se tiene que ordenar el sistema para que sea eficiente la recaudación fiscal.

Cholusat Sur, Canal 36, Noticias de Última Hora en Honduras

Origen: Mauricio Oliva: ‘Congreso de EEUU puede proponer cualquier medida contra Honduras’ – Noticias Cholusat Sur

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US Lawmakers Demand Effective Protection of Honduran Activists

“The safety of activists throughout Central America remains a serious concern,” the Congress members said.

Origen: US Lawmakers Demand Effective Protection of Honduran Activists

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Congressmembers Tell Secretary Kerry: Protect Honduran Rights Defenders

Trade unionists Tomás Membreño Pérez and Nelson Nuñez. Photo credit: Sisters of Mercy

Publication Date:

March 17, 2016

On March 16th and 17th, 2016, members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent letters to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on two separate cases that illustrate the dangers faced by Honduran labor and human rights defenders. In letters endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Representatives called upon the State Department to take specific, concrete actions to address the situation of activists in Honduras, who are regularly threatened, attacked and assassinated for the brave work they do.

In the March 16th letter, 23 members of Congress led by Representatives Kaptur and Johnson call for action on threats against Honduran trade unionists Nelson Nuñez and Tomás Membreño Pérez. In November 2015, Nelson Nuñez had to flee his home along with his family after they had been monitored for weeks by unknown men in a black pick-up truck without license plates. Tomás Membreño Pérez, his colleague in the trade union federation FESTAGRO (an ILRF partner organization), had received multiple death threats in August and September 2015. The anonymous messages ordered him to stop his support of banana and sugar cane workers who were organizing for better working conditions.

In January 2016, advocacy by ILRF supporters and allies prompted 30 members of Congress to call for action from Honduras on the threats against FESTAGRO leaders. But by March, these cases had yet to be investigated, and the trade unionists were not getting the protection they needed.

The Honduran government is required to uphold basic labor and human rights protections under CAFTA and U.S. foreign assistance legislation, respectively. They have repeatedly failed to enforce the law, yet have faced no meaningful consequences from the U.S. government.

After over 1,600 ILRF supporters contacted their members of Congress, the group of concerned Representatives sent the follow-up letter to Secretary Kerry on March 16th. This forceful new letter urges Kerry to push the Honduran authorities to publicly condemn the threats, arrange for the trade unionists’ private protection, document concrete progress made on their cases, and strengthen the fight against impunity in order to address the root causes of violence against human rights defenders.

The 23 Representatives signing the letter requested “a detailed record of all Embassy personnel’s contacts with the Honduran government regarding the security of or the threats against these trade unionists, including the name and position of the official, the issues discussed, the requests made by the Embassy, the response from the Honduran officials, planned follow up action, concrete measures and the dates on which they are or will be implemented.” The Representatives stated that “calling on the Honduran government in a public forum to condemn the threats would send a clear message that the plight of the unionists and the workers they represent is not acceptable.”

Such a tough Congressional message has the potential for real impact at a critical moment. The assassination of Berta Cáceres, a world-renowned Honduran environmental and indigenous rights activist, on March 3, 2016 has been met with strong global condemnation and appeals for justice, including a call by a prominent Vatican cardinal for “an independent and impartial investigation.”

A powerful letter on Berta Cáceres’ death signed by 62 representatives was also sent to Secretary Kerry on March 17, 2016. The Cáceres letter demands an independent international investigation of her murder. Significantly, it also calls for broader changes that have long been supported by international solidarity organizations, which could help prevent future acts of violence against human rights defenders in Honduras. The release of these two Congressional letters in the same week demonstrates that more U.S. policymakers are watching closely and expecting Honduras to address the escalating risks for activists across the country.

Honduras is the most dangerous place in the world to be an environmental activist, and rights defenders, including trade unionists, continue to face violent attacks for the courageous work they do. The country has seen the assassinations of hundreds of environmental, indigenous, LGBTI, labor and other human rights defenders since 2009, most of which remain in impunity. International pressure is critical to ensuring the safety of Berta Caceres’ allies in the Honduran social movement, who honor her memory by continuing to fight for the rights of all marginalized communities.

See below for the full text of both letters sent to Secretary Kerry, in English and Spanish.

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Reps. Johnson, Ellison call for independent murder investigation of human rights activist Cáceres

More than 60 colleagues sign on to effort to hold Honduran government accountable, urging Sec. Kerry to push pause on Central American nation’s security funding pending outcome of review

In the wake of the tragic killing of the Honduran environmental and indigenous leader Berta Cáceres on March 2, Reps. Hank Johnson (GA-04) and Keith Ellison (MN-05), together with 60 House colleagues, today sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew requesting their support in combating human rights violations and rampant impunity in Honduras.

In the letter, members of Congress call for an independent, international investigation into the murder of Cáceres with backing from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The letter was signed just hours before the murder of Berta Cáceres’ colleague and fellow activist, Nelson García, further highlighting the ongoing nature of these crimes and the need for urgent action.

In addition, the letter calls for the full implementation of IACHR precautionary measures for Berta Cáceres’ family, COPINH and key witness Gustavo Castro and the immediate institution of an effective system of protection for Honduran social activists, human rights defenders and members of the political opposition.

The letter urges the State Department and Treasury to carry out a review of the scheduled increase in security funding to Honduras and of U.S. support for multilateral loans to private-sector projects in Honduras.

“The U.S. provides millions of dollars of security assistance to Honduras and yet frequent attacks and killings of environmental activists like Cáceres continue without any effective response from the authorities,” said Rep. Johnson. “It’s time for our government to leverage security assistance and multilateral loans so as to put real and lasting pressure on the Honduran government to protect its activists and pursue those responsible for these hideous crimes.”

“Peaceful activists should be able to speak out without living in fear, or being killed for their work. Berta Cáceres and Nelson García were courageous and extraordinary leaders who fought for Honduras’ indigenous community despite ongoing threats. We’ve waited too long for action already – the U.S. government should pressure the Honduran government to make sure those responsible for these horrific crimes are held responsible,” said Rep. Ellison.

Berta Cáceres – co-founder of the indigenous rights organization COPINH and winner of last year’s Goldman Environmental Prize and one of Honduras’ most prominent activists – was shot by an unknown gunman on March 2 at her home in La Esperanza. She had received numerous threats as a result of the campaign she and her colleagues at COPINH have been waging against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project in the Rio Blanco Lenca indigenous community. Four other COPINH members have been murdered over the last few years.

International Environmental NGO Global Witness reports that Honduras is the most dangerous place in the world for people engaged in environmental activism with 109 environmental activists killed between 2010 and 2015.  In recent years, Honduras has also been identified as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, legal professionals and LGBTI activists.

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Letter below:

March 16, 2016

The Honorable John Kerry

Secretary

U.S. Department of State

2201 C St NW

Washington, D.C.

 

The Honorable Jacob Lew

Secretary

U.S. Department of Treasury

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20220

Dear Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew:

We write to urge you to act expeditiously to address appalling levels of violence and extreme violations of civil rights in Honduras. We are profoundly saddened and angered by the brutal assassination of Berta Cáceres, and appalled by our government’s continuous assistance to Honduran security forces, so widely documented to be corrupt and dangerous.

To combat harsh violations of human rights and a growing culture of impunity in Honduras, we request that the Department of State and the Department of Treasury use all possible resources to achieve the following:

•          Significant pressure on the Honduran government to sign an agreement with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to create an independent international investigation into the murder of Berta Cáceres, as requested by her family;

•          Strong pressure on the Honduran Public Prosecutor to allow Berta Cáceres’ family limited access to the investigation, including proposing independent experts.;

•          Significant pressure on the Honduran government to implement and comply with the precautionary measures granted by the IACHR to Berta Caceres’ family, members of COPINH, and Gustavo Castro;

•          Significant pressure on the Honduran government to immediately institute and fund a system of protection for the social activists, human rights defenders, and members of the political opposition who remain at risk, from providers of each individual’s choosing. This system could be modeled after other systems in place in countries such as Colombia and Mexico;

•          A review of the scheduled increase in funding for the Honduran security forces. We strongly believe that the U.S. government should immediately stop all assistance to Honduran security forces, including training and equipment, given the implication of the Honduran military and police in extrajudicial killings, illegal detentions, torture and other violations of human rights;

•          The review of U.S. support for loans to projects in Honduras from U.S.-funded multilateral development banks, including the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund to ensure no future awards are funding projects in Honduras that undermine the land rights of indigenous people and small farmers; and

•          Significant pressure on the Honduran government to immediately and permanently stop the Agua Zarca dam, following the request made by Senator Leahy.

The murder of Ms. Cáceres, the co-founder and coordinator of COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, should trigger the strongest possible diplomatic response. She was internationally renowned for her courageous work defending indigenous land rights and opposing environmentally destructive megaprojects.  In 2015, she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

The killing of Ms. Cáceres fits into a broad pattern of attacks against and targeted killings of Honduran activists, and community leaders since 2009, in which state security forces have allegedly been involved.  COPINH has been a frequent target.  In July 2013, the Honduran armed forces shot and killed Tomás García, a COPINH Lenca community leader, while he was peacefully protesting against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam. Amnesty International reports that Cáceres and other COPINH leaders have been subjected to judicial persecution and have faced “unfounded charges in relation to their actions as human rights defenders.”  In 2013, Cáceres was jailed on a falsified charge of weapons possessions, and only freed thanks to the pressure of Amnesty International and an international outcry.

We also note that many other Honduran social activists, members of the political opposition, and human rights defenders have been victims of targeted killings and attacks.  According to Global Witness, Honduras was the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists in 2015.  International human rights bodies including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the United Nations, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have all documented a dramatic increase in targeted killings of journalists, legal professionals, LGBTI activists, land rights activists, labor activists, Afro-Indigenous and Indigenous activists, and other activists in the years since the 2009 military coup.

Disregarding her family’s request, Ms. Cáceres’ body was subjected to an autopsy by Honduran officials without the presence of an independent forensic expert. Such action underscored the danger of allowing the Honduran government–with its established track record of corruption and subversion of the rule of law, including the destruction of evidence–to proceed further in the investigation without independent international oversight.

Honduras and the world have lost an extraordinary advocate for environmental and social justice.  We must now do everything in our power to ensure that her tragic assassination will serve as a catalyst for positive change in Honduras, not just empty promises and more of the same.  Therefore, we urge you to carefully rethink our country’s close and supportive relationship with the Honduran government.

We look forward to your response to our heartfelt concerns about terrible human rights violations in Honduras.

Sincerely,

Henry C. “Hank” Johnson

Member of Congress

Keith Ellison

Member of Congress

 

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The Unfinished Work of Berta Cáceres

At the present time several international organizations are pressuring us to build “megaprojects” on indigenous lands — refineries, tourist resorts, and hydroelectric dams — that threaten to displace our people.

But we ask, “Who are the people that make these proposals? We are the people who live in those areas, and we should have a right to decide what kind of projects are built on our lands.”

– Berta Cáceres, writing in 1999

The assassination of Berta Cáceres in the pre-dawn hours of March 3 came as a shock to Honduras and to Latin America watchers around the world. Berta, a vibrant woman with a glowing smile, was still young  and seemed too full of life, too driven and too determined, to be cut down.

But Berta’s assassination one day before her 45th birthday, and just five days before International Women’s Day, should have been expected. Berta had received numerous death threats in recent years, as she had explained to the many media outlets that interviewed her after she received the Goldman Environmental Prize last year. She had also been subject to a campaign of harassment and persecution by the Honduran authorities, including sedition and other bogus charges leveled at her in 2013 (subsequently dropped). Not yet the recipient of such a prestigious international award, she received little international attention for her plight then.

Berta was a threat to powerful forces in Honduras, and so they threatened her. Beginning in 2013, Berta and the organization she had co-founded in the 1990s, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH) began a campaign of road blockades and other peaceful resistance to planned hydropower projects on the Gualcarque River. The project is still being pursued by Desarrollos Energeticos, SA (DESA) with foreign funding through the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and contracting from Voith-Hydro (Siemens), although the Dutch FMO development bank and FinnFund have cut ties to the project in the wake of the assassinations of Berta and another COPINH member, Nelson Garcia (who was murdered the night of March 15). The Agua Zarca dam would threaten access to water for the indigenous Lenca communities who live in the area  as well as the sacred river itself. The communities say they were not consulted about the project, in violation of international law  but the companies began to advance with it anyway.

As Berta’s quote above suggests, none of this was entirely new to her or to COPINH. From the beginning, the organization had organized successfully against various resource-extractive projects that posed a danger to the land and to traditional ways of life. DESA and the other companies were not the first to plan projects in Lenca communities like Rio Blanco without first consulting the people living there.

This is why Berta wrote in 1999 of COPINH’s struggle to show Honduras and the world that “indigenous people do exist,” as they confronted “others who only see indigenous peoples as archeological remains.”

Writing at the time of the first encuentro of what would later become the Convergencia de Movimientos de los Pueblos de las Américas (Convergence of People’s Movements of the Americas, COMPA) — when COPINH was just six years old — Berta referred repeatedly to the pressures COPINH had to exert on the government of Honduras to recognize the importance of women, of the environment, and of indigenous people and their autonomy. Pushing back against environmentally destructive development projects financed by international capital was challenging, considering the context. Honduras was a reliable ally of the U.S. government, having served as “the base for the counterrevolution in Nicaragua,” as Berta wrote.

With the government of President Manuel Zelaya, beginning in 2006, social movements and popular organizations like COPINH were able to gain some ground. Zelaya worked to help restore land to campesinoswho had been defrauded of it in previous decades, for example. But the Honduran elites weren’t prepared to relinquish their traditional control over the national agenda. In June 2009, Zelaya was overthrown in a coup, forced onto a plane at gunpoint during the night, still in his pajamas, and flown to Costa Rica (after stopping at the U.S. military base at Soto Cano, Honduras for refueling).

This was a coup backed by the Obama administration, which helped it succeed, working to prevent the democratically elected Zelaya from returning to the presidency until new elections were held in November. The elections, Hillary Clinton wrote in her memoir of this time as secretary of state, “would render the question of Zelaya moot.” (Belén Fernández, contributor to the forthcoming Verso book False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Clinton, has discovered that this passage has been removed from the paperback edition of Clinton’s book.)

Naturally, Berta resisted the coup, promptly becoming one of the most well-known faces of the resistance movement. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered protection for her the day after the coup.

The coup regime, and the government that emerged from the November 2009 elections (which, contrary to Clinton’s assertion in her book, were hardly “free and fair,” and the OAS and EU refused to even send observers) rolled back many of the gains of the Zelaya years. Poverty, economic inequality and unemployment increased, while underemployment went way up, with an increase in the number of workers receiving less than the minimum wage. Under Zelaya and his director of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, Dario Araque, efforts had been made to recognize the “existence” of actual, living indigenous people — and not just the Maya people promoted as archeological mascots for a foreign tourism market. But, this quickly began to be reversed under the coup regime.

There has been political continuity since, with National Party governments elected in 2009 and 2013 (both times in elections that critics and observers cited as problematic). What Berta wrote in 1999 reads like it could have been written in 2016. The struggles she articulates, the lengths to be traversed in order to achieve equality for women, for autonomy and respect for Honduras’ indigenous population, for concern and protection of the environment, seem almost as daunting now as they were back then.

But Berta, COPINH and other groups and movements working for these goals have accomplished much, and this is why they have been targeted, with the complicity (at the very least) of the state. “We have expelled 36 big lumber companies from our area and most of them were foreign, even from the United States,” Berta wrote of COPINH’s accomplishments in 1999. She also noted: “We’ve been able to get the government to build several health centers and schools, with jobs for doctors and teachers; and to build highways and bridges.” She cited “several agreements” signed by the Honduran president and international organizations “to recognize indigenous rights.”

Since the 2009 coup, the Honduran government has found this form of people power unacceptable, with human rights activists and opponentsof the coup often targeted for attack. COPINH activists had been killed before: Berta’s colleague Tomás Garcia was shot and killed by a Honduran soldier in 2013 as he peacefully demonstrated; 15-year-old Maycol Rodriguez disappeared and was later found dead, in 2014. But, with Berta, this political repression may have reached a new level. She was the most prominent social movement activist to be cut down in Honduras since the coup.

Despite an international outcry and an unusual level of international media scrutiny, the Honduran authorities have so far treated the assassination of Cáceres like so many other targeted killings of political activists. They are using it as an opportunity to further persecute Berta’s colleagues, including of course members of COPINH, but also her long-time friend and close colleague Gustavo Castro Soto. Castro is based in Chiapas, Mexico, where he works with Otros Mundos (related to the U.S.-based Other Worlds) and Friends of the Earth Mexico. The sole witness to Berta’s murder, he himself was shot when the assassins entered Berta’s home, and left for dead. The Honduran authorities have prevented Castro from leaving Honduras — despite the efforts of the Mexican ambassador to get him on a plane — and Castro has said his life is in “extreme danger.”

In response, Berta’s family, COPINH, and scores of other organizations in Honduras as well as those allied in solidarity have called for independent participation in the investigation into the assassination — specifically through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. They demand Castro’s immediate release and safe return to Mexico, and that the dam and other projects being foisted onto Lenca communities against their will be halted.

The U.S. government has been relatively quiet about Berta’s murder, considering her profile and the extent of attention it has received. The State Department signaled initially only that it would support the investigation by the Honduran authorities — still pretending that Honduras’ justice system works and that corruption and impunity do not pervade institutions at all levels. Members of Congress are working to push the State Department in a better direction, with public letters echoing the demands of Berta’s family, COPINH and the other NGOs — including, notably, Senator Patrick Leahy’s call for the Agua Zarca dam project to be halted. International campaigns have been launched against the hydropower development’s backers — including most recently, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has supported the project through partnerships.

This would be the best way to honor Berta and to raise the cost of any future such assassinations of environmentalists and rights activists: Ensure that the project that she ultimately gave her life fighting is stopped.

This article originally appeared on Verso Books site.

Dan Beeton is International Communications Director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. With Alex Main and Jake Johnston, he contributed two chapters to The WikiLeaks Files.

Origen: The Unfinished Work of Berta Cáceres

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