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Grahame Russell of Rights Action Canada says there are too many serious irregularities with the investigation to trust it
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Four men have been arrested in Honduras in connection to the murder of indigenous activist Berta Caceres. She was shot dead two months ago in her hometown of La Esperanza. Two of the suspects are associated with the company Desarrollos Energéticos South America, which is DESA, and that DESA was building the Agua Zarca Dam which Berta Caceres was trying to oppose. Her family was excluded from this investigation. Here contextualize the situation is Grahame Russell. Grahame is the founder of Rights Action Canada. Thank you so much for joining us Grahame. GRAHAME RUSSELL: Thank you for having me on the program. PERIES: So Grahame, what do you make of this arrest of the people associated with DESA? RUSSELL: Well, I have long worked with Berta Caceres and her family and have long worked with COPIHN and I very much follow their lead on this. They have spoken out immediately once the arrests were made and their position is basically that they do not trust the investigatory process. It is noteworthy to them and I agree with this that two of the suspects detained are associated with the DESA hydroelectric dam project. Two of the other suspects detained are military and ex-military. So both those facts are noteworthy but I still fully agree with the family that there [are] too many very serious problems with the investigation to trust it. PERIES: And what are those problems associated with the investigation? RUSSELL: They started from the morning after her assassination. She was assassinated late on March 2, and by early on the morning of March 3 the irregularities began. When she was assassinated, there was a Mexican indigenous rights activist leader/environmental defender with her, Gustavo Castro. He was also shot. He is a victim in this crime as well. He immediately went and gave his testimony to the authorities and he was detained in the country for thirty days and not allowed to leave the country. It almost became an arbitrary detention. So there’s a whole issue with how he was treated almost as a suspect himself. Secondly, there was released suspicions by the investigatory authorities that they thought this was a lovers’ quarrel murder, then they thought it was a botched robbery, then they started obliging members of her own organization COPIHN to come in and respond to questions without the presence of lawyers, suggesting that it was an assassination internal to the organization of COPIHN. All the while, they were tampering with evidence at the murder site. And we now know this because Gustavo Castro survived the assassination attempt and is an eyewitness to the assassination attempt, the assassination attempt on himself and he has seen the crime site since then and knows it’s been tampered with. Right through to the point that you already mentioned, that the family which, under Honduran law, has the right to participate fully in the investigation, [has] been systematically excluded by the corrupted legal authorities in Honduras from participating in the investigation. PERIES: And give us some more context as to why her family in particular is being left out. Is there some driving force behind the family that would have a greater say in what’s going on in the investigation? RUSSELL: I think that the biggest factor is that this assassination of Berta Caceres, because of the international attention it has received, has opened up the Pandora’s box of just how repressive and violent Honduras is as a country, particularly since the 2009 military coup that was supported by the governments of the United States and Canada. Some of the roots of these issues go back before the coup in 2009, but it’s been widely documented that Honduras has become the most violent country in the world, and has become again the most oppressive country in the Americas since the 2009 military coup. The assassination of Berta Caceres on March 2 was sadly and distressingly but simply the most recent of hundreds of politically-motivated killings in Honduras since the coup. PERIES: I understand just days ago Honduran radio journalist Felix Molina was also the victim of two assassination attempts. Tell us about who he is and how all of these attacks on journalists and activists are going on in Honduras with impunity. RUSSELL: Impunity and corruption are the two key words. This is a profoundly corrupted regime in power in Honduras and—again, I think it bears repetition—that’s fully backed by the United States and Canadian governments, and many international actors including the World Bank and mining companies and the like. But the country is deeply characterized by impunity and corruption, and the story about Felix Molina, he’s not as well-known as Berta Caceres but Felix Molina is a very courageous, articulate journalist who has been one of the most, who has probably done some of the best journalism work in Honduras since the coup, and yesterday, Monday, March 2, he was the victim of two assaults. And the second one, when people jumped into a taxi and shot him four times, twice in each leg. I trust Felix, I know Felix like I’ve known Berta for many years, I’ve known Felix since the military in 2009. I trust his analysis, and his analysis was this was likely an assassination attempt on his life. He can’t prove it yet and he’s a careful journalist. Because he was attacked twice in the same day in the same fashion, and because of his work as a journalist, all indications are that he was the victim of an assassination attempt, and that would not be surprising. Not only has Honduras become the violence/murder capital of the world since the 2009 coup, it is the journalist-killing capital of the Americas, along with I think Mexico and Columbia, over the past, since the military coup. And so repression against community leaders, environmental leaders, indigenous leaders and journalists is the norm in Honduras. PERIES: Now this Agua Zarca Dam, it has received financial assistance from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration as well as the World Bank initially. What is the impact of these kinds of large infrastructure, large scale projects on the people because it has become corporation versus the people kind of situation in Honduras and the impact obviously is great on the people but describe some of that relationship between corporations and the people. RUSSELL: I think that’s a very good way of putting it in a nutshell: corporations versus the people. The role of the so-called development banks, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Central American Bank of Integration, the role of global companies and investors dates back to before the military coup in 2009. But there’s been a massive increase in foreign investment, foreign corporate activity in Honduras since the coup in many areas of the global economy: mining, hydroelectirc dams, [unclear] sweatshops, the production of African palm trees and sugar cane for green energy, tourism along the north coast. There’s been an extraordinary spike in corporate and investor activity in Honduras directly resulting from the coup. And so more and more Honduran communities, indigenous communities and non-indigenous communities, since the coup have been organizing themselves so that they don’t get forcibly evicted from their lands to make way for hydroelectric dams, to make way for mining, to make way for the production of African palm trees. And when they organize themselves and try to act peacefully, democratically to defend their rights, they become targeted with very violent repression. And the repression is carried out by private sector security guards who work for the large corporations and investors, often in conjunction with Honduran military police. That’s the story of Berta Caceres and the work she was doing with the organization COPIHN to defend the territory and lands of the [unclear] in western Honduras against the illegal and violent entry of the DESA hydroelectric dam project. PERIES: That was Grahame Russell. He is the founder of Rights Action Canada. Thank you so much for joining us. RUSSELL: Thank you very much for having me on. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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