Action: Call your congressperson to support H.R. 1945 (The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act). The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act (HR1945), demanding a suspension of all U.S. security aid to Honduras, was recently re-introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson with 43 initial cosponsors. The bill will work to ensure that the Honduran government, military, and police cannot commit crimes or acts of violence against the Honduran people with impunity. Berta Cáceres was an environmental activist who with the indigenous Lenca people waged a nonviolent campaign to prevent the building of the Agua Zarca Dam. She was murdered in 2016 by gunmen in her home.
“This legislation will suspend U.S. military funding to Honduran security forces and discourage multilateral development bank lending until the Honduran government investigates and prosecutes those in the military and police who have violated human rights.” “For years, members of the Honduras police and military have engaged in corrupt practices and gross human rights abuses without consequence. By limiting funding, we have the opportunity to force the Honduran government to investigate and prosecute these crimes,” said Rep. José Serrano (NY-15).For more information about this bill, click here or here. Co-sponsors of the bill include representatives from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Ohio
Who was Berta Cáceres? In a country with growing socioeconomic inequality and human rights violations, Berta Cáceres (d. 2016) rallied the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.
Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has witnessed an explosive growth in environmentally destructive megaprojects that would displace indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land was earmarked for mining concessions, creating a demand for cheap energy to power future mining operations. To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects around the country, privatizing rivers, land, and uprooting communities.
Among them was the Agua Zarca Dam, a joint project of Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer. Agua Zarca, slated for construction on the sacred Gualcarque River, was pushed through without consulting the indigenous Lenca people—a violation of international treaties governing indigenous peoples’ rights. The dam would 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.
Berta Cáceres, a Lenca woman, grew up during the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980s. Her mother, a midwife and social activist, took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, teaching her young children the value of standing up for disenfranchised people. She grew up to become a student activist and in 1993, she cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging, fight for their territorial rights and improve their livelihoods.
In 2006, community members from Rio Blanco came to COPINH asking for help. They had witnessed an influx of machinery and construction equipment coming into their town. They had no idea what the construction was for or who was behind the project. What they knew was that an aggression against the river—a place of spiritual importance to the Lenca people—was an act against the community, its free will, and its autonomy. With mandates from local community members at every step of the way, Cáceres began mounting a campaign against the Agua Zarca Dam. She filed complaints with government authorities, bringing along community representatives on trips to Tegucigalpa. She organized a local assembly where community members formally voted against the dam, and led a protest where people peacefully demanded their rightful say in the project.
The campaign also reached out to the international community, bringing the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and lodging appeals against the project’s funders such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank. Ignoring these appeals, the national government and local mayors forged ahead. They doctored minutes from a community meeting to paint a false picture of unanimous approval for the dam, and offered cash to local people in exchange for their signature on documents declaring their support.
In April 2013, Cáceres organized a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site. Using a carefully organized system of alerts to keep everyone in the loop, the Lenca people maintained a heavy but peaceful presence, rotating out friends and family members for weeks at a time. For well over a year, the blockade withstood multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarized security contractors and the Honduran armed forces.
Honduras’ violent climate is well known to many, but few understand that environmental and human rights activists are its victims. Tomas Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, discredited, detained, and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. Against these odds, Cáceres and the Lenca community’s efforts successfully kept construction equipment out of the proposed dam site. In late 2013, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA, publicly citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Tomas’ death. Agua Zarca suffered another blow when the IFC withdrew its funding, citing concerns about human rights violations. To date, construction on the project has effectively come to a halt.
Death threats to Cáceres continued until March 3, 2016, when she was killed by gunmen in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. Her death, followed by the killing of her colleague and fellow COPINH member Nelson García just 12 days later, sparked international outrage. Dutch development bank FMO and FinnFund have since suspended their involvement in the Agua Zarca project. COPINH, along with fellow activists, are determined to continue her legacy, fighting irresponsible development and standing up for the rights of the Lenca people in Honduras.
Network Lobby for Social Justice continues its Lenten series on Racism with this reminder: “Being anti-racist is a daily choice. When white supremacy permeates the daily society, structures, and systems we encounter daily, it is not enough to be passive – we must actively counter the presence of white supremacy in our daily lives. However, when you do join a conversation about racism, participate in an action, or just go about your daily life mindful of race, you may slip up. We all have racial biases that we are working to overcome, and sometimes there are things that you just haven’t educated yourself on yet. The important thing is that how you choose to react when you mess up.” This week’s information is called Hope for our Liberation.
Action: We need to fight environmental racism. When the federal government wants to build something in our communities, we have a right to be a part of the process – especially if there are potentially harmful environment risks. It is a part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the administration is attempting to roll back parts of the bill that give citizens a voice. This will especially impact communities of color who are often the victims of environmental racism. From harmful pollution to the real impacts of climate change, race is the single biggest indicator of how likely an individual is to experience negative environmental and public health impacts. NEPA reviews allow people – especially people of color – the power to fight against systemic inequities to protect their families and communities. Call your senators and representatives and urge them to protect NEPA.
Cecilia González-Andrieu writing for America explores why women stay in the Catholic Church. She states that “the story of the dysfunction of the Catholic Church as an institution is now the subject of multiple investigations and copious news coverage worldwide. Tragically, at issue is not just the sexual abuse of minors by clergy or the exploitation of women religious or the exclusion of women from positions of authority and oversight or denying women full use of their gifts. We are now confronting all of this together.” Read “With a Church in Crisis, Why do Catholic Women Stay?”
Many individuals criticize asylum seekers saying they should enter the U.S. the legal way. While claiming asylum is legal based on both national and international law, it is incredibly hard to enter the U.S. through other legal means. Here’s what’s happening with the current immigration system as explained by Peniel Ibe of the American Friends Service Committee. One of the major problems is the reduction in the number of refugees allowed into the country. This year’s quota is 30,000. Last year, only around 24,000 were admitted. On April 9, 2019 Senator Edward Markey, Representative Zoe Logfren and Joe Neguse and 22 Senate and House co-sponsors introduced the Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enhancement (GRACT) Act. It would establish 95,000 as the minimum goal for refugee admitted each year. Read, Ms. Ibe’s blog “Trump Attacks on Legal Immigration System Explained.”
More Action: Call your Senators and Representatives to support the DREAM Act and SECURE Act. The USCCB Committee on Migration publicly voiced support and sent letters to the Senate endorsing the “Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors” (DREAM) Act of 2019, S. 874, and the “Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression & Emergency” (SECURE) Act of 2019, S. 879. The DREAM Act of 2019 would provide permanent legal protection and a pathway to citizenship for qualifying Dreamers. The SECURE Act of 2019 would provide permanent legal protection and a pathway to citizenship to qualifying Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders.
Yesterday was Earth Day – a day to celebrate the beauty of our Mother Earth. What has been accomplished since the first earth day in 1970? This article from National Geographic provides a list. There have been many advancements but there is still a long way to go.