In an interview with Radio Mundo Real FM (which is run by the Latin American branch of Friends of the Earth), Berta Cáceres, one of the leaders of COPINH (Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), describes in detail how the repression of Indigenous people is intensifying on all fronts. The interview in Spanish can be accessed here. LAB translated the interview into English.
Berta: These latest events come in the midst of an intensification of the repression against the indigenous people of our country and are made possible by the pro-coup activity which remains alive, well and unpunished in Honduras. Economic, political and foreign military forces are operating in an amazing way, without waiting for any authorisation before launching their mining projects, starting to build dams, and so on. This is a direct assault upon the indigenous community. Meanwhile, Honduras every day has to mourn 22 deaths by acts of violence, on average. Human rights violations are rising and we live in an atmosphere of violence.
I want to make clear than in Honduras human rights continue to be violated; social movements continue to be criminalised and, of course, repression and murder is the order of the day. On top of that, we have the militarization, the conduct of the Honduran Army, the private security companies and the paramilitaries, and with it all the increase in the number of US troops, on the pretext of combating drug trafficking, especially in the Miskito region, an area of ancestral land shared among four indigenous groups.
Note that this month US troops and the Honduran Army fired machine guns at villagers, members of the Miskito population, among them pregnant women. That made a huge impression on Honduran society and it mobilized all the Miskito people in their lands, their comunities and their municipalities to demand in the meetings of the territorial councils that the US troops be withdrawn from Miskito territory.
This repression by the repressive forces of the state has been taking place in other areas as well. For instance, in the communities of Siguatepeque, of Santa Barbara where we have a land recovery occupation going on. The police attacked the peasants three days ago, arresting members of COPINH simply for belonging to their organisation. We managed to get them released, but charges against them remain and there are arrest warrants out for several others. There is police provocation throughout the area, and the same is happening in the municipalities of Lenca where COPINH has also been organising.
Members of the Tolupán communities in Montaña de la Flor were attacked the day before yesterday because they stood up to defend their forests against the industrial timber companies, to prevent them felling the trees, and to protect their water sources. The response was that the army high command sent in commando units who threatened our Tolupan indigenous brothers with grenade launchers, hand grenades, threatening to use tear gas on them, confiscating their tools, intimidating the children, girls and boys. This is part of a whole project of daylight robbery. In this area government institutions have doled out five exploitation permits to the timber merchants most closely linked to the army.
Radio Mundo Real: Are these timber barons themselves military, or do they have links to the military commanders of the region? Are military and business interests working hand in glove?
Berta: In the area of the Tolupán tribes that is so. Yesterday, one of the timber barrons carrying out abuses there has a son who is an officer in the high command of the Army. They use the resources of the Army in the most blatant way, behind the backs of the Honduran people, to repress the Tolupán people. They mobilise any number of soldiers and bring them in to terrorise the communities. We’ve seen the same thing in other Tolupán communities, where army generals like Armijo Uclef [?] have attacked indigenous people and, as before, are acting in close concert with businessmen and the police.
Yesterday we heard that another brother peasant in El Aguán was murdered, and once more it seems that the security guards of Facussé were behind it. This is nothing new, that we have to denounce the presence and active participation of gringo foreigners in the repression against peasants in El Aguán. The repression is coming directly from the army and from the US troops whose numbers have increased significantly in Honduras. What we have is an occupation and direct aggression as part of their strategy not just for Honduras, but for the whole hemisphere.
Radio Mundo Real: In the case of these disputes over timber, are we talking of so-called ‘precious’ woods which are for export to the US, or of common varieties to be used in Honduran industry?
Berta: This vast timber industry in Honduras operates without the slightest regard for legal procedure. It’s certainly true that there are a number of forests where precious woods such as mahogany, cedar and red mahogany are present. Also pine. As you will know, Honduras is above all a forest-country, more so than an agricultural one. And these forest resources are located mainly in the areas where indigenous people live. These forests are essential for water supplies and they maintain a very unique and delicate eco-system. But of the timber that is exported from Honduras, 70 per cent is illegal, its trade is illegal. And this is carried on above all by the big businessmen who backed the coup d’état, men like José Lamas, a Cuban counter-revolutionary who has come here to try his luck from Miami, the main destination port for all this timber. Some goes to Europe too. So the pressure on our communities is huge, what with the militarisation, repression and abuses.