The Honduran Indigenous Leader's assassination raises once again a need to look at the United States' role in the violence that plagues Latin America
The latter half of the 19th and most of the 20th century was filled with malicious and shameful American action in Latin American nations. Whether it was the Mexican-American War, the overthrow of Democratically elected governments in Central America, the invasion of Panama, or the support of right wing dictatorships in South America. America’s relation with Latin America is less rosy than most people think it is.
But the murder of Berta Cáceres, and most recently her colleague, Nelson Garcia, raises once again a need to look at the role that the United States often plays in the violence and lawlessness that plagues Honduras and the rest of Latin America.
Cáceres was an indigenous human rights activists who had been one of the most vocal opponents of the “Agua Zarca,” a proposed hydroelectric dam that would be built on the ancestral lands of the Lenca indigenous community. For years, Cáceres received many death threats for her opposition to the dam being built. While protection was requested from the Honduran government, it was never provided.
Her tragic death is only an example of the current human rights crisis plaguing Honduras. Peasant indigenous activists, members of the LGBT community, and journalists are persecuted and killed by death squads and/ or corrupt police officers. Perpetrators are often not held responsible and the raging impunity continues to encourage this systemic and violent silencing of opposition voices.
Like neighboring country El Salvador, the military is taking an increased role in community policing and is behind the large spur of violence that made Honduras the murder capital of 2014, and subsequently caused the child refugee crisis. And while the United States is going through a constitutional crisis over the Supreme Court and Antonin Scalia’s death, judges in Honduras are often subject to death threats and members of the highest court can be arbitrarily removed by the Honduras congress.
Like most human rights crisis on this side of the hemisphere, the United States has fingerprints all over it. The United States culpability stems from its support of the 2009 military coup when democratically elected left leaning President Manuel Zelaya was overthrown by the army and the supreme court of Honduras. The United Nations, the Organization of American States and many Latin America nations refused to recognize the legality of the coup. The aftermath of the coup was full of violence and repression by the interim government and its security forces. Activists and journalists who were critical of the coup were threatened, silenced and even killed.
The United States was ambivalent at first about it’s stance on the coup. But the Obama administration should have followed the international community in declaring the coup illegal, and demanding the return of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency. He was democratically elected, and had been the victim of a collusion between the army and the supreme court. The United States was completely aware of this, and there were no “gray areas” as many in the Department of State made it seem. As the following quote shows:
“By July 24, 2009, the U.S. government was totally clear about the basic facts of what took place in Honduras on June 28, 2009. The U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa sent a cable to Washington with subject: ‘Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup,’ asserting that there is no doubt that the events of June 28 constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.lop The Embassy listed arguments being made by supporters of the coup to claim its legality, and dismissed them thus: “none… has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution.”
Despite this cable that was sent to all members of the Department of Sate and the Obama administration, the United States backed the coup, and sanctioned elections that the rest of the international community had condemned. Under heavy supervision of the military and security forces, Hondurans went to the polls and “voted” for the current right wing repressive regime of Honduras.
In relation to Berta Cáceres and the cause she was killed for, the United States sanctioned coup might as well have been the start of her troubles. While President Zelaya had protected the rights of indigenous people, and worked against the privatization of lands that would have dispossessed many indigenous people, the current right wing government of Juan Orlando Hernandez continues to approve many of these projects, and continues to put the rights and safety of indigenous communities in danger.
In 2009, if the United States had really believed in democracy, President Obama and Secretary Clinton, would not have moved forward to back the military coup in Honduras that has resulted in the violence, repression, and human rights violations plaguing Honduras.