The Grayzone traveled to rural Honduras to visit the home of murdered activist Berta Cáceres. Anya Parampil sat down with her mother for an interview.
Video by Ben Norton
ANYA PARAMPIL: This is La Esperanza, a town in Honduras whose name translates directly to mean “hope.”
This is the community where world-renowned environmentalist and anti-capitalist activist Berta Cáceres was born, raised, and eventually murdered.
Behind me you see just a small picture of the beautiful land she fought for, and died defending.
To reach the area of Intibucá, where La Esperanza is locating, we drove west from the capital Tegucigalpa, and through the winding mountains of rural Honduras. There we saw the natural treasures that Berta spent her life defending.
In the town of La Esperanza, nestled in the mountainous pine forests of rural Intibucá, I visited the home where Berta Cáceres was raised.
We sat down with her mother, who spoke with pride about her daughter’s life of activism, and the pain of losing her at the hands of a corporate-backed death squad with close ties to the government.
ANYA PARAMPIL: Berta, thank you so much for inviting us into your home and for speaking with us this afternoon.
It has been three years since your daughter, Berta Caceres, was murdered by a private military organization with connections to the government, paid for by a private corporation.
But when we were driving here to visit you, I noticed on many of the buildings and on many of the fences you still see the words “Berta vive,” “Berta lives,” here.
How still, three years later, does Berta live here, in Esperanza, but in the country?
DOÑA BERTA CÁCERES: First of all, welcome to my house. Thank you very much for this visit.
I want to tell you that little Berta was my youngest daughter. She always lived with me. She got married, had her kids, and continued living with me. It’s because of that in the moment that they told me she had been killed, for me it was something so frightening that I still can’t absorb.
And four years have already passed and there still is not justice. Because only the people who shot her are prisoners, those who executed her. But on the other hand, those who paid them and gave them orders, they enjoy all the privileges of this incompetent government of [President] Juan Orlando [Hernández].
ANYA PARAMPIL: But it wasn’t really possible to kill someone like Berta?
BERTA CÁCERES: Yes. They had planned it for many years. She was threatened; she was persecuted. Harassed in a terrifying way.
The government, the state failed, because the human rights commission on an international level ordered that she be given protection. But this was not carried out. Because she was assassinated.
If she had been protected by the authorities here, it would not have been possible. But there was a very big conspiracy.
Only the seven gunmen are prisoners, but not the ones who ordered it, those who coordinated the assassination of Berta.
It was a murder by the state, an assassination where the government is complicit.
And to this moment there is a great impunity in this country, where many young people have been murdered, and especially many women and men. And here, every day, you hear protests against killings that remain unpunished.
ANYA PARAMPIL: And can you talk about Berta’s work? It’s such a beautiful town here, Esperanza. On the way through the mountains, we saw the incredible land here that she was working so hard to protect. How has that struggle continued?
BERTA CÁCERES: Well she was a tireless fighter.
She was a student leader. She led young students. She got married, and then, with her husband, they went to the last offensive of the guerrillas in El Salvador.
And all of this was a demonstration of the solidarity that she had with the struggles of all peoples.
And here, when she returned, she came to organize COPINH [her human rights group].
The indigenous peoples, although they were recognized [by the state], they lived in the mountains, without roads, without schools, without healthcare.
So she thought — and it was well thought out — to organize COPINH, a great organization that, in the early years, focused on the department of Intibucá.
But later, she expanded her struggle to all of Honduras — and internationally.
She was a great fighter for human rights, for women’s rights, for children’s rights.
And she was against all of the elite economic power, which squeezes everything, and does not let the other citizens have the right to live with dignity.
ANYA PARAMPIL: And what is the connection between the government of the United States and what happened with your daughter?
BERTA CÁCERES: Yes, the United States government is one of those who are very guilty for the situation in this country right now.
In which the country is controlled, so that we have a dictatorial president and government, a tyrannical government. The US protects this.
This is a country that is full of weapons, including also multiple US military bases, and Berta fought for them to get out. She always fought.
She went to Palmerola [the US military base] several times, to protest. Strongly. She wrote on the walls, “Get out gringos!” “Impostors.”
And this struggle was not against the people of the US, but rather against the governmental system which dominates poor countries, with the crumbs that they send us, and the governments that are bootlickers of them [the US], like the government of Juan Orlando [Hernández], and all his gang.
They are receiving billions to buy weapons, to have battalions here, which are not necessary here. What is needed is medicine, food, healthcare; things like schools for children. Not weapons. We don’t need weapons.
Nevertheless, this is perhaps one of the countries of Central America with the most military bases, with so many US soldiers, as if we were in an international war.
ANYA PARAMPIL: Has there been any sort of effort to give you justice? What has the response been from the government here, human rights groups, and international organizations like the United Nations?
BERTA CÁCERES: It has been a tireless struggle. [There have been] denunciations at the national and international levels. And yes, I want to recognize and give thanks to many institutions and organizations which have given us all their support.
And due to this, the seven gunmen were able to be captured, and are now prisoners.
But I am not satisfied, because the people who plotted the assassination are still free. And they keep hurting the villages; they keep opening dams; they keep deforesting all the forests, all the common property.
And I think that half-way justice is not justice.
For me it will be sufficient when I see the imprisonment of those who paid and ordered the murder, who are the [powerful elite] Atala family.
And of course the responsibility that this government has, and they call him a president, but for me he is not a president; he is a drug trafficker.
To begin with, his brother Tony Hernández is imprisoned in the US [for drug trafficking]. Nevertheless, he hasn’t felt the slightest bit of shame to step down.
If I were in his place, I would have resigned as president —I don’t call him president, but rather an impostor, who is facing a people that is sinking every day in misery, in the most dreadful hardship, which fills us with shame, which has filled us with misery and hunger, in a situation where you go to a health center and there is not one pill, not a single aspirin, because everything is stolen.
Shameless robbery, of billions every day. It’s a terrible plundering of all our belongings.
ANYA PARAMPIL: The company which paid for your daughter’s assassination is called DESA. It’s an energy development company that works here in Honduras. What more can you tell us about that corporation?
BERTA CÁCERES: Her murder was above all because of her defense of the Gualcarque river, where they were going to made a big dam, and they were going to displace all the indigenous peoples from their lands.
It was this that motivated these evil people to kill her, to stop her and continue building.
They are the ones who are truly guilty for the murder of my daughter. DESA made the big investment to build the dam in the Gualcarque river. And of course the ones who have invested their money are the Atala family.
Since the moment, I have blamed DESA, the Atala family, and the Honduran government for the assassination of my daughter.
That is to say, it was not just a killing over the issue of the dam, but rather a political killing.
ANYA PARAMPIL: Before she was assassinated, Berta specifically called out then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her role in the coup here. However, during the 2016 elections in the United States, many of us were told that, if you’re a feminist and you support the progression of women, you had to support Hillary Clinton, because it was our chance to have a woman in the White House.
Berta identified strongly as a feminist. How would you compare the two different kinds of feminism, what we experience sometimes in the United States and what exists here?
BERTA CÁCERES: Yes, the truth is she was not just a fighter, a defender of the environment, a defender of nature, of Mother Earth, a defender of the indigenous; she was also a woman with a greatness that almost can’t be named.
She participated in politics. She is a political woman. She was a candidate for vice president, for Carlos H. Reyes. But they pulled out, because that was the coup d’état.
But yes, to repeat it, she was not just a feminist and defender of Mother Earth, but also was of such greatness, not only at the level of Honduras, but in all of the world.
She was invited to various far-away places. She was in Africa; she was in Asia; she was in Canada.
And here in Honduras, for all of the indigenous groups, like the Miskitos. Not just with the Lencas: with the Miskitos, and all the ethnic groups in this country.
Organizing, giving workshops, so that women would realize that, yes we can, that we cannot just be dependent on men, rather that we have great potential to be able to govern, to be able to give orders, to accomplish, to survive.
And that we have a very large role to fill in this world.
ANYA PARAMPIL: You talked a little about the police that are out front here to protect you. What threats since Berta’s assassination have you faced, and other members of your family faced? Do you feel safe here?
BERTA CÁCERES: Yes, it has been a non-stop persecution. I have always tried to protect my family, or to make sure we are protected. We have out there protection from the international human rights commission.
But it is only here in this house; the others don’t have it. For example COPINH is completely unprotected.
I think the young women, especially Olivia [the congressmember] have their protection. But here that is not enough.
They can order something to happen to us at any moment. Because they are ready to harass the people of the village, who do not like them.
And because of this I always live with a lot of caution, thinking that something can happen to my children, especially to Gustavo, Roberto, Adán, and to Berta’s daughters.
ANYA PARAMPIL: We are in the house where Berta grew up. And from what I understand, she comes from a very political family; her family was involved in local government here. Tell us where Berta comes from.
BERTA CÁCERES: I want to tell you that all of my family always was a family of changes. They were always against the dictatorship, since the time of Tiburcio Carías.
And my parents, my dad was a prisoner, along with his brothers, for many years in the central penitentiary.
Because their struggle was against the brutality committed by all the dictators.
Of course, Carías was president of Honduras for 16 years, but as a dictatorship. And the military dictatorships followed in this country.
And little Berta saw all of my work too, because I am also a political woman, I was. Three times, I was mayor of the municipality of La Esperanza, the only woman. The only woman that has also been, I also was a congressmember.
Olivia [Berta Jr’s daughter] has inherited it; she also likes politics a lot, and she is currently a congressmember.
And I think that taught little Berta a lot, that the working struggle for women’s survival is not just to work in the kitchen, not just to raise kids, but rather to show us how to do politics, or how to do research.
But yes, she organized, in all of Honduras, a great women’s movement.
ANYA PARAMPIL: Thank you very much, Berta.
Video shot, edited, and translated by Ben Norton
Anya Parampil is a journalist based in Washington, DC. She has produced and reported several documentaries, including on-the-ground reports from the Korean peninsula, Palestine, Venezuela, and Honduras.