Global Witness: “Honduras, the most dangerous country per capita to be an environmental activist for the last five years, with 101 deaths between 2010 and 2014”
March 2017: The infamous US Army School of the Americas (also nicknamed “School of Coups” and “School of the Assassins”) in Fort Benning, Georgia (rebranded as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation [WHINSEC] since 2001) once again rears its ugly head one year past the cold-blooded assassination of Honduran indigenous and environmental activist Berta Isabel Cáceres, who was gunned down just before midnight March 2, 2016, after months of threats on her life and despite the obligation on the Honduran state to provide her with protection. Her shooting was the culmination of an extended campaign by the indigenous Lenca people (the largest indigenous group in Honduras) against the vested interests linked to the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos, S.A. (also known as DESA) and their plans to construct four hydroelectric dams on the Gualcarque River. In this regard Berta Cáceres joins a long list of environmental activists and protesters murdered for standing up for local people’s rights in the face of the large corporations and their friends and relatives in both the military and other ‘high places’: “a powerful nexus of corporate and state interests”, international NGO Global Witness says, in a country: “Honduras, the most dangerous country per capita to be an environmental activist for the last five years, with 101 deaths between 2010 and 2014.”
The School of the Americas / WHINSEC was established in Panama in 1946 but came into its own in the cold war counter-insurgency frenzy of the 1960’s in Central and South America where more than one military dictator cut their teeth on the SOA Manual which recent freedom of Information requests has shown covered areas from basic counter-insurgency techniques, psychological warfare, interrogation methods, to torture, extra judicial killing and forced disappearance as the tragic history of that continent bears witness to….all is fair in love and war, you might think, only in this world of power and brutality there is no love unless we talk of the disturbing satisfaction some humans seem to get from inflicting torture and pain on their fellow beings.
Ramona Wadi (Mintpress News, 2015):
“South American militaries have been sending soldiers to the U.S. for “ethics” and “human rights” training for years, but history shows that many of these alumni go on to become notorious torturers and murderers, not defenders of peace.”
Some of the SOA graduates that achieved notoriety include: Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ General Leopoldo Galtieri whose Batallón de Inteligencia 601 was responsible for an estimated thirty thousand deaths and disappearances during the military junta, Rios Montt of Guatemala responsible for widespread massacres, rape, and torture against the indigenous population in what has been called a Guatemalan genocide, and Raoul Cédras of Haiti responsible for the murder of over 3,000 men, women and children following the 1991 military coup. Other notorious graduates include: El Salvador death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson who killed and tortured thousands during El Salvador’s civil war; the 19 Salvadoran army personnel linked to the 1989 assassination of six Jesuit priests; 10 of the 12 officers “cited as responsible” for the El Mozote massacre on December 11, 1981, when the Salvadoran Army killed more than 800 civilians; Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, the deposed Panamanian leader; six Peruvian officers linked to the killings of students and a professor; and Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, a Guatemalan officer implicated in the death of an American innkeeper living in Guatemala and to the death of a leftist guerrilla married to an American lawyer. The list by now is almost endless. SOA Watch publish an inventory on their website: (http://www.soaw.org/about-the-soawhinsec/soawhinsec-grads/notorious-grads) with an extended list of these perpetrators of abduction, kidnapping, illegal detention, disappearance, torture, rape, murder, assassination, summary execution, massacre, extreme cruelty, dismemberment, and don’t forget drug dealing and protection rackets while you are at it. The SOA Watch list is comprehensive, and disturbing
In 1999 a Washington Post article released information on the training manuals used at the ‘counterinsurgency’ institute following the forced declassification of these seven Spanish-language training guides by the Pentagon: the manuals advocated the use of fear, payments of bounties for enemy dead, extortion, beatings and false imprisonment, as well as the use of truth serum. “The release of these manuals proved what SOA Watch, thousands of Latin Americans and numerous human rights organizations had been saying for years: that U.S. taxpayer money had been used for the teaching of torture and repression.” SOA Watch said. The term “neutralisation” was also widely used – which the US department of Defence has admitted is a euphemism for illegal execution.
Dana Priest (Washington Post Staff Writer):
“U.S. Army intelligence manuals used to train Latin American military officers at an Army school from 1982 to 1991 advocated executions, torture, blackmail and other forms of coercion against insurgents, Pentagon documents released yesterday show.
Used in courses at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, the manual says that to recruit and control informants, counterintelligence agents could use fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum, according to a secret Defense Department summary of the manuals compiled during a 1992 investigation of the instructional material and also released yesterday.”
Negative publicity since that time and numerous calls to close the training facility down have so far not managed to impact on the institution despite the fact that in recent years six countries have withdrawn their troops from the school; they are Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Uruguay and Ecuador.
And so despite being constantly monitored (and protested against) since 1990 by SOA Watch and other attempts to rein in its power, the ‘school’ continues and we can only fear for the future it plans for ‘us’, considering the dangerous swing to the right American politics has recently taken.
Having being implicated in the 2009 Honduran Military Coup (‘Four of 6 Generals Tied to the 2009 Honduran Coup Were Trained at the SOA’ SOA Watch) the infamous cloak and dagger organisation is dragged into the spotlight once again now as at least two of the 8 people charged with the killing of the Honduran human rights defender turned out to be military officers trained in the dirty-tricks capital of the so called Free World.
SOA Watch (Friday, 03 March 2017 22:58):
“One year ago we awoke to the devastating news that Berta Cáceres, the renowned Indigenous and social movement leader of Honduras, had been assassinated. This week The Guardian reported that two of those charged with Berta’s murder were trained by the United States in Ft. Benning, Georgia, home of the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC). One of them, Army Major Mariano Diaz, was the chief of army intelligence a the time of Berta’s murder. He had been a direct commander of a third suspect, Henry Javier Hernandez, a former special forces sniper who has admitted to being at Berta’s home when she was murdered. A source quoted in the Guardian article explains, ‘The murder of Berta Cáceres has all of the characteristics of a well-planned operation designed by military intelligence.’ US-trained military intelligence.”
Violence in Honduras is reported to have increased dramatically after the military-backed coup in July 2009 that forced President Manuel Zelaya from power. “Environmental campaigners bore the brunt of the repression after the new rightwing government licensed hundreds of mega-projects, including mines and hydroelectric dams in environmentally sensitive areas. At least 109 activists were murdered between 2010 and 2015, making Honduras one of the world’s most dangerous countries for environmental defenders.” The Guardian reported.
Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores was born in 1971 into the Lenca community in La Esperanz, Honduras. From an early age she learned from her mother the values of the social struggle.
“I came into political activism when I was very young, about 7 years old. My mother was a midwife and activist. I accompanied her on many of her activities around the community. She attended to indigenous women, assisted refugees and worked closely with students. It was dangerous work. She was kidnapped by an army colonel because of her activism. My brother has also been kidnapped and tortured. Our house was monitored and watched for more than 10 years by government death squads.”
Following Berta Cáceres death in March 2016, on the 2 May the government arrested four men – “one is DESA’s manager for social and environmental issues, another a former employee of a security company hired by DESA; the other two are an army major and a retired captain.” (Wikipedia) Overall eight men have been arrested in connection with the murder.
According to a February 2017 investigation by The Guardian, court papers purport to show that three of the eight people arrested in connection with the assassination are linked to the US-trained elite troops. Two of them, Maj. Mariano Díaz and Lt. Douglas Giovanny Bustillo, received military training in the US.
Laura Cáceres: “After my mom’s assassination, they demonstrated that nobody is safe here.”
A former soldier with the US-trained special forces units of the Honduran military also asserted that Cáceres’ name was included on a hit list distributed to them months before her assassination. The Guardian Headline of Tuesday 21 June 2016 says it all:
Berta Cáceres’s name was on Honduran military hitlist, says former soldier – A unit trained by US special forces was ordered to kill the environmental activist who was slain in March, according to an ex-member who now fears for his life.
According to Rodrigo Cruz (pseudonym) Cáceres’ name appeared on a list given to a military police unit in the Inter-institutional Security Force (Fusina), which last summer received training from 300 US marines and FBI agents. Cáceres herself told Al-Jazeera in 2013: “The army has an assassination list of 18 wanted human rights fighters with my name at the top.”
Leaked court documents summarised by the Guardian showed, despite state denial, the detainees’ military records and court documents seen by the Guardian revealed that:
Díaz, a decorated special forces veteran, was appointed chief of army intelligence in 2015, and at the time of the murder was on track for promotion to lieutenant colonel.
Another suspect, Lt Douglas Giovanny Bustillo joined the military on the same day as Díaz; they served together and prosecutors say they remained in contact after Bustillo retired in 2008.
Díaz and Bustillo both received military training in the US.
A third suspect, Sgt Henry Javier Hernández, was a former special forces sniper, who had worked under the direct command of Díaz. Prosecutors believe he may also have worked as an informant for military intelligence after leaving the army in 2013.
Five civilians with no known military record have also been arrested. They include Sergio Rodríguez, a manager for the internationally funded Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam which Cáceres had opposed.
“Honduran military records show that Díaz attended several counterinsurgency courses at special forces bases in Tegucigalpa and in the Bajo Aguán…He also attended cadet leadership courses at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1997, and a counter-terrorism course at the Inter American air force academy in 2005. Military records show that in 1997, Bustillo attended logistics and artillery courses at the School of the Americas, at Fort Benning, Georgia, which trained hundreds of Latin American officers who later committed human rights abuses.” The Guardian reported.
In our fight to protect the Gualcarque River, the most powerful element has been the Lenca people’s spirituality, and an impressive tenacity in the struggle that continues to this day. This has been the most effective in getting us heard. Also our solidarity has been very powerful. They haven’t been able to stop us despite the threats, the fear, the persecution, the deaths…
Cáceres had also reported 33 death threats linked to her campaign against the dam, including several from DESA employees. DESA continues to deny any involvement in the murder.
Simple, if almost unbelievable, in a world with an aspiration towards rights, justice, democracy and respect for life… Cáceres had pissed off Desarrollos Energéticos SA, (Desa), which has extensive military and government links. The company’s president, Roberto David Castillo Mejía, is a former military intelligence officer, and its secretary, Roberto Pacheco Reyes, is a former justice minister. Desa employed former lieutenant Bustillo as head of security between 2013 and 2015. In the year since her death at least seven more land and environmental defenders have been killed in Honduras “as the government ramps up its crackdown on activism” Global Witness reports.
In June 2016, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act was introduced to the American Congress with the explicit aim: “To suspend United States security assistance with Honduras until such time as human rights violations by Honduran security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.” In a letter from her family on the anniversary of her death Cáceres’ family members called on Representative Norma Torres (D-CA)—the first Central American to serve in Congress—to support the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act. The Act was introduced by Rep. Henry Johnson (D-GA).
Berta Cáceres, who lost her life, knew what her struggle, like all our struggles, in all the silent corners of the world, was about.
She called out, in her 2015 Goldman Prize acceptance speech:
“Wake up humanity, there is no more time…. The Gualcarque River has called us, as have the others that are seriously threatened. We must answer. The militarized, fenced in, and poisoned Mother Earth, where elemental rights are systematically violated, demands we act. Let us construct societies capable of co-existing in a just and dignified way.”
Time to close down the US Army School of the Americas-the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, if for no other reason than the bad taste involved its choice of photographs (dictators and murderers) reputedly on the wall of its ‘hall of fame’ as you enter one of its main buildings…
Time now to construct societies capable of co-existing in a just and dignified way.
Sources & References:
Masthead: Counter Insurgency Operations
By United States Army, United States Department of Justice [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Berta Cáceres shares candle: “How Many More” (“fair use“) from:
Guardian List of Related articles:
Nina Lakhani, The Guardian: February 28, 2017
Berta Cáceres court papers show murder suspects’ links to US-trained elite troops
March 3, 2017, Democracy Now Report
The School Of The Americas Is Still Exporting Death Squads (2015)
Goldman Environmental Prize:
SOA & SOA Watch & Manuals Index
BBC Outlook, short interviews: Knowing My Mother Might Be Murdered
Aljazeera: The School of the Americas: Class over? (20120
“School Of The Americas” – (School For Training Assassins, Robert Richter
Berta Caceres acceptance speech, 2015 Goldman Prize ceremony
Goldman Environmental Prize
Mother of All Rivers
Honduras: Blood and the Water – Al Jazeera/Fault Lines