Nation & World

Family of slain activist asks U.S. to cut off aid to Honduras

Family of Berta Caceres seeks U.S. help

(Spanish) The 25-year-old daughter of slain Honduran indigenous leader Berta Cáceres said the family has struggled for even the basic information about the investigation of her mother's murder. They're asking the United States to cut off federal a
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(Spanish) The 25-year-old daughter of slain Honduran indigenous leader Berta Cáceres said the family has struggled for even the basic information about the investigation of her mother's murder. They're asking the United States to cut off federal a

The 25-year-old daughter of slain Honduran environmental leader Berta Cáceres traveled 1,800 miles to Washington this week to press the Obama administration for help investigating her mother’s murder.

Bertha Zúniga said she has little faith in her government’s ability to find and hold responsible the people who killed her mother.

“The government had an interest in stopping her fight,” Zúniga said. “But they’ve also demonstrated a series of inconsistencies and irregularities in how they’ve gone about their investigation.”

Cáceres, co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (Copinh), had faced death threats from Honduran authorities and private security forces, her family said, because of her fight against the construction of a hydroelectric dam planned along a river that’s sacred to the indigenous Lenca people – a fight for which she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize last year.

On March 3rd, she was at home in La Esperanza when two men reportedly forced themselves inside and shot her multiple times.

This is what my mother fought and died for.

Bertha Zúniga, daughter of Berta Cáceres

Cáceres’ family has struggled to get answers from Honduran authorities over the most basic questions about her death, including a copy of the autopsy report and access to Cáceres’ personal belongings.

The family has meetings planned with members of the Senate and House, including the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, to press their case. They’re also working to arrange meetings with State and Treasury department representatives as well as World Bank.

They’re calling on the United States to cut off millions in aid to Honduras until human rights defenders receive proper protection. Cutting the purse strings, they hope, would force the Honduran government to accept an independent international investigation into Cáceres’ murder.

The U.S. ambassador in Honduras, James D. Nealon, already has condemned what he described as a “despicable crime.”

“The United States of America calls for a prompt and thorough investigation into this crime and for the full force of the law to be brought to bear against those found responsible,” he said in a statement on the day of the shooting.

Without international pressure, the case has little chance of being resolved, said Silvio Carillo, Cáceres’ nephew, who also traveled to Washington.

This is what my mother fought and died for.

Bertha Zúniga, daughter of Berta Cáceres

Honduras, which has the world’s highest homicide rate, was among the leading sources of a wave of tens of thousands of families and unaccompanied minors who in the past two years rushed to the United States from Central America, fleeing violence and poverty. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 60 percent of the estimated 573,000 Honduran immigrants in the United States are here illegally.

Fewer than four percent of all murder cases in Honduras result in a conviction, a statistic the State Department cited in its 2013 Human Rights Report on Honduras. Many of those killings are the work of security forces or organized criminal elements, the report said.

“Among the most serious human rights problems were corruption, intimidation, and institutional weakness of the justice system leading to widespread impunity,” the 2013 report states.

Since 2009, more than 100 environmental activists, more than 30 journalists, and more than 30 trade unionists have been murdered in Honduras, according to congressional staff.

More must be done to guarantee that the investigation into Ms. Cáceres’ death does not end in impunity.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland

Dozens of members of Congress have joined efforts calling for an independent investigation, including 11 senators who urged Secretary of State John Kerry to place a hold on any U.S. assistance that goes to police or military personnel implicated in human rights violations.

“More must be done to guarantee that the investigation into Ms. Cáceres’ death does not end in impunity,” U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter to Kerry signed by 10 other Democratic senators.

Zúniga said her family is struggling not knowing what happened to her mother. She thinks the men who shot her mother were likely just pawns in a greater conspiracy to silence her mother. But Zúniga said she and the rest of her family will continue her mother’s work.

“This is what my mother fought and died for,” Zúniga said. “This is the real justice. It’s been a long battle for my mother. She always involved us. And now we have even more reason to continue.”

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