Berta Cáceres, the Honduran environmental activist and indigenous leader, appeared on a “hit list” distributed to U.S.-trained Special Forces units of the Honduran military months before her assassination, a former soldier has told The Guardian newspaper.
Lists featuring the names and photographs of dozens of social and environmental activists were given to two elite units, with orders to eliminate each target, according to First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz, 20.
Cruz’s unit commander, a 24-year-old lieutenant, deserted rather than comply with the order. Cruz – who asked to be identified by a pseudonym for fear of reprisal – followed suit, and fled to a neighboring country.
“If I went home, they’d kill me. Ten of my former colleagues are missing. I’m 100 percent certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the army,” Cruz told The Guardian.
Winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for a campaign against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, Cáceres reported death threats to international human rights delegates.
According to Cruz, Cáceres’s name appeared on a list given to a military police unit in the Inter-institutional Security Force, which last summer received training from 300 U.S. marines and FBI agents.
Five men have been arrested for her murder, including Maj Mariano Díaz Chávez, an active-duty major in the Honduran army. Díaz is reported to be a graduate of the elite Tesón special operations course which is partly taught by US Special Forces.
Annie Bird, director of Rights and Ecology, which documents human rights abuses in Honduras, said: “Cruz’s testimony suggests death squads are targeting political opposition, but the justice system is so broken, and directly controlled by figures implicated in corruption, that there is no one who can credibly investigate.”
On June 14, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act in Honduras – which would suspend U.S. security aid until human rights violations by security forces cease – was introduced to Congress by Rep. Hank Johnson.
Cáceres’s daughter, Bertita Zúñiga, said Cruz’s testimony strengthened the family’s calls for an independent international investigation to find the intellectual authors.
“This shows us that death squads are operating in the armed forces, which are being used to get rid of people opposing government plans. It shows us that human rights violations are state policy in Honduras.”
Faith in action: Ask Congress to support the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act: http://bit.ly/BertaAct.