|April 21, 2016|
Stop aid to Honduras, says murdered campaigner's daughter
|The daughter of murdered environmental leader Berta Cáceres has called for a suspension of European aid to Honduras and investment in its hydro projects until the country complies with human rights norms.|
Cáceres was shot as she slept on 2 March, after her family say that Honduran authorities failed to adequately respond to a slew of escalating death threats.
A Goldman Environmental prize-winning activist, she had co-founded an indigenous people's campaign against the Agua Zarca hydro project, which is part-financed by European banks, despite claims by indigenous people that it will be environmentally ruinous.
Now, her daughter Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres is calling on Dutch development bank FMO, FinnFund, hydropower company Voith and the European commission to take action.
She told the Guardian: "We are asking these companies to definitively suspend the funds they are giving to DESA the hydro company for this project. We also want to see a suspension of EU aid to Honduras until the government shows a political will to resolve the human rights violations and land conflicts."
Honduras can currently draw from a €120m (£90m) EU pot to fund security, climate change and private sector projects. Separately, the country received €235m from the European commission between 2007 and 2013, partly to finance "rule of law" programmes.
At a European parliament hearing on Wednesday, officials from the EU's foreign policy arm, the European external action service, said that some of the EU's donations had been spent on projects to help human rights defenders in Honduras.
"We fear that there are growing threats to human rights defenders in the fields of land rights, land grabbing and indigenous peoples' rights," an official said.
Linda Broekhuizen, FMO's chief investment officer, told the parliamentary hearing that her firm was organising a mission to Honduras to decide whether to end its involvement in the project. She said: "The question of whether we will exit from the project is a legitimate one -- and also one we ask ourselves."
A full-page advert calling on FMO to pull out will appear in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant on Thursday.
Honduras remains the most dangerous place in the world for environmentalists, according to Global Witness, which says that 116 conservation activists were murdered there in 2014, almost half of them indigenous people.
Twelve days before her death, Bertha says that her mother asked the state security minister, Julian Pacheco, for protection in a personal meeting, after receiving 33 death threats, some from company employees.
"My mother went directly to see the minister to ask for protection as she had been granted exceptional measures by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The minister told her that she was exaggerating and was not in any danger, so there was no need for the exceptional measures."
The police officers eventually sent to guard her had previously been assigned to protect DESA's infrastructure and openly resented their new detail, Bertha says.
Claims of official indifference towards or collusion with violent attacks are common in Honduras. On 16 April, a protest against the DESA project was reportedly attacked by company employees wielding machetes, while police stood by.
In the week before her death, Berta Cáceres tried to avoid staying alone, seeking out friends in a way that was unusual for her, according to her daughter.
"She was scared," Bertha says. "She told us that she saw cars surveilling her and people following her. When she said her last goodbye to her youngest daughter, Laura, her final words were: 'Don't be afraid. In this country we live in, anything can happen.'"
True to the traditions of the Lenca people, Bertha says that her mother's spirit lives on. "She is alive in the common goods of nature," she said, "in the rivers and the land. Her presence is expressed through indigenous rituals in which she speaks through the fire for instance. Speaking with her is not an easy thing. That is why our communities have spirit guides."