Truth Held Captive: Murder, Honduras and the Democratic Primaries

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The assassination of indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres the night of March 2 in La Esperanza, Honduras has sparked international outrage.


The only eyewitness of Cáceres’ murder—Gustavo Castro Soto—was shot and wounded during the attack. A Mexican citizen from the Chiapas chapter of Friends of the Earth, Castro is also the coordinator of the Mesoamerican Movement against the Extractive Mining Model (M4) and a board member of Other Worlds, a US-based environmental rights organization.


Following interrogation by Honduran police in La Esperanza, Castro Soto was aided by the Mexican Embassy, who attempted to put him on a plane back to Mexico. They were stopped by Honduran authorities who drove him back to La Esperanza where, sleep-deprived and still in his bloody clothes, he was subjected to further questioning. Today, a week after Cáceres’ brutal murder (and yet another round of interrogation), Castro Soto has been allowed to return to the Mexican Embassy. Honduran authorities refuse to let him leave Honduras, however, for another thirty days.


Gustavo Castro Soto, wounded and traumatized, is not a criminal and has answered all the questions asked of him. The question that needs answering is: Why is he still being held?


That the Honduran government would refuse the Mexican Embassy the right to repatriate one of their own citizens—and that the more powerful Mexican state would tolerate such a diplomatic indignity—is baffling. But most likely, neither Mexico nor Honduras are calling the shots.


There is much to hide about Berta Cáceres’ murder and Castro Soto’s eyewitness account will fly in the face of any cover up. But it’s not just the assassins, the Honduran police, the Honduran government and the power companies supporting the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project who need to hide the truth: it is the United States State Department.


Why? The answer begins with the former president Bill Clinton’s signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement and ends with Hillary Clinton’s precarious showing in the Democratic Party’s presidential primaries.


For over two decades, the United States has led the charge for the privatization of Central America’s economies. (The US’s penchant for supporting despotic regimes dates back over a century). The World Bank, the Central American Development Bank and USAID have all worked to “modernize” Central American political institutions and the region’s infrastructure by deregulating labor and environmental regulations and providing economic incentives for extractive industries, like timber and mining. But this trove of resources requires energy; hence the demand for hydroelectric power. The regional project for extractive industries and hydroelectric dams also needs to persuade the hundreds of thousands of peasants, Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities presently living in in the central mountains and eastern tropical plains of the Central American Isthmus to turn over their land, their rivers, their forests and entire territories to international corporations.


As demonstrated in the hundreds of popular referendums carried out in the Central American countryside over the last ten years, few communities have wanted to do so. Rural protests in southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have been massive.


The corporations and the governments have struck back, hard.


Hondurans are not the only people to suffer under the growing corporate violence, widespread incarceration of community organizers, the revival of paramilitary death squads and the assassination of anti-mining and anti-dam leaders.


Honduras is however, the country that has the clearest link between the rise of repression and former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. It was Clinton who moved to keep democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya from returning to Honduras after he was deposed in a coup in 2009. It was Clinton who pushed for the US to recognize the new regime that unleashed a reign of terror upon any community, organization or social movement that dared stand in the way of the extraction of the region’s resources. It was Clinton who kept quiet in the face of these atrocities. The US State Department sits at the apex of what has become a structure of terror bent on violently dispossessing the indigenous people of the Rio Lenca of their land.


But things went awry. The Hondurans who ordered her assassination did not realize that Berta Cáceres, her organization COPINH, and the international movement for environmental justice to which they belong would respond so massively to her murder. The assassins did not realize that Gustavo Castro Soto was Mexican. They didn’t realize they’d failed to kill him.


The perpetrators also did not realize that this assassination would compromise the structure of terror itself; that because her support for the murderous regime the murder would become a political liability to the former Secretary of State in her run for the presidency. (To be fair to Hillary Clinton, that is part of the job of the Secretary of State… but it is one at which she has excelled.) The political damage from trying to cover up the assassination is likely going to be just as damaging as the truth. Now they are all stuck. This is why the truth is being held captive in the Mexican Embassy of Tegucigalpa.


It is also why demands for the safe and immediate return of Gustavo Castro Soto to Mexico, a full, independent investigation of Berta Cáceres’ assassination and for an end to the repression of indigenous environmental movements in Central America needs to be placed directly at the office of the US Department of State.

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