Commemorating the six-month anniversary of the assassination of Berta Cáceres, Hondurans demand justice.
On the morning of September 2nd, 2016 the Witness for Peace Honduras International Team climbed the steep staircase of La Gruta, the church overlooking the rural mountain town of La Esperanza, where six months earlier Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home. Amidst ongoing threats and intimidations, the organization she co-founded, The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH). organized a series of events to commemorate the six month anniversary of her assassination. Most prominently, they held a march through the streets of La Esperanza which began on the very steps where hundreds of leaders and mourners gathered on the day her community buried her body.
When we arrived, we saw only a smattering of what would become hundreds of protesters from various civil society organizations throughout Honduras. We were greeted, however, by a marching band of local schoolchildren playing a melody that, piercing through polyrhythmic percussion, struck us as vaguely familiar. After a moment, we identified the melody as the unmistakable and apropos Simon and Garfunkel classic, “The Sound of Silence.”
While we doubt that the youth band intended it, it struck us a particularly appropriate way to commence a march born from the compounded frustration of a people confronted by a multitude of silences: from the Honduran justice system, U.S. foreign policymakers, and the transnational corporations which many view as complicit in Cáceres’ murder.
“After six months since the assassination of Berta Cáceres,” chanted young participants from Paso a Paso (“Step by Step” in English), a San Pedro Sula-based educational program for at-risk youth, “we demand justice!”
Paso a Paso represented one of many organizations present for the demonstration. COPINH was also joined by another Witness for Peace partner, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH,) the grassroots social justice organization defending the rights of the Black Indigenous Garífuna from the north coast of Honduras. Bearing a large banner declaring “OFRANEH is Present!” the group played a prominent role throughout the demonstration, reaffirming its decades-long solidarity with COPINH.
The members of a substantial delegation from Casa del Pueblo (“The People’s House” in English), a growing populist movement also based in San Pedro Sula, all wore t-shirts emblazoned with the lyrics of a song that would replace the sound of silence in our minds: “Berta hasn’t died, she’s become millions. Berta is me!”
(“We demand justice!” in English)
After the above-mentioned organizations had gathered at La Gruta, the demonstrators began their march through the streets of La Esperanza. They were joined there – and increasingly as the march went on – by local residents and others. At the front of the line was a pick-up truck carrying a microphone and speakers, through which COPINH members led chants and songs, and played clips of Berta’s still profound and timely speeches.
One recurring chant that resonated strongly with the demonstrators as well as onlookers took on a call-and-response:
“Are you tired?”
“Are you afraid?
“Onward! Onward! The struggle is ongoing!”
The march stopped for some time at the municipal building, where members of OFRANEH gathered at the building’s entrance and led a ceremony invoking the spirits of their ancestors through drums and smoke. Members of the police and army arrived, but the demonstration continued peacefully and without incident, and COPINH took the opportunity to play an excerpt of Cáceres acknowledging that the rank and file police are the “hermanas y hermanos” (“sisters and brothers” in English) of the movement.
From there, the march poured down the main corridor of town to the outskirts of Intibucá stopping at the local courthouse, where the sounds of judicial silence were disrupted by the crowd’s unified cries for justice. The protesters gathered in front of the building, some taking seats around the perimeter, to listen to speeches from representatives of the various organizations present. Police and military patrols pulled up, armed and awaiting a confrontation that never came. Although the speakers represented a broad and diverse cross-section of Honduran civil society, the message was clear throughout: justice for Berta Cáceres, an end to impunity, an end to militarization, and respect for human rights and those who defend them.
(“And so…onward!” in English).
A recurring question at Witness for Peace speaker’s events, and on Witness for Peace delegations, is “what can I do to help?” Some time during the events this past weekend was spent discussing the importance to COPINH and others of HR 5474, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act. We encourage you to call your representative now to ask him or her to co-sponsor the act.
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Bryan and Ryan
Witness for Peace Honduras IT