Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 16.
A group of 730 leading Latin American experts and scholars have called for United States Secretary of State John Kerry to halt aid and support to Honduras until the Central American country improves its atrocious human rights record.
The open letter condemned the March 3 assassination of Honduran indigenous leader and environmental activist Berta Caceres. The letter was released just hours before the March 16 murder of Nelson Garcia, an activist who worked with Caceres — further highlighting the ongoing nature of these crimes and the need for urgent action.
The letter said: “Despite Honduras' worsening human rights conditions, the US is providing an aid package to the region, the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle.”
The letter called for US sanctions on Honduras until the murder of Caceres was properly investigated with the assistance of international human rights investigators.
On March 14, US activists protested outside the offices of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington, calling for the US government-funded body to end support for the Agua Zarca dam project in Honduras.
The project is vehemently opposed by local indigenous people and environmentalists. Caceres was a leading opponent.
USAID is supporting the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque River, which was one of the projects opposed by the Lenca people.
Caceres, a decorated activist and co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras, was allegedly killed due to her active opposition to the project.
The US activists unfurled banners that read: “USAID stop funding murder in Honduras” and “Berta Caceres, Presente!”
In a press release, they said: “We stand in solidarity with our dear comrade Berta and the Lenca people and all Hondurans who are valiantly resisting displacement in their territory.
“If USAID is serious about involving communities in development, they will listen to the Lenca people and stop working with the DESA-Agua Zarca hydroelectric project immediately.”
Caceres was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize last year for her organising efforts against the Agua Zarca mine.
In response to community opposition, a major partner in the dam project pulled out in 2013. One of the project's funders, the International Finance Corporation — the World Bank's private sector lending arm — also pulled out citing human rights concerns.
USAID, however, continues to support the dam project, despite the recent assassination of Caceres and the killing of community activist Tomas Garcia in 2013.
USAID has been routinely criticised for using its programs to support the US government's foreign policy goals above the needs of communities.
After a 2009 coup that ousted the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya, the post-coup government pursued a development strategy. It has deliberately set out to court transnational companies to build hydroelectric projects and open mining operations, such as the Agua Zarca dam.
Indigenous groups and supporters from across Honduras marched on the capital Tegucigalpa on March 17 and 18 under the banner: “Berta lives, the struggle continues!”
Protesters demanded justice for Caceres and other murdered activists and an end to repressive mining and dam projects threatening indigenous rights.
[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]