Honduras suspends case against indigenous leader

After an eight-hour hearing on June 13, a court in Santa Bárbara, the capital of the western Honduran department of the same name, suspended a legal action against indigenous leader Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores for the alleged illegal possession of a weapon. According to Cáceres’ lawyer, Marcelino MartĂ­nez, the court found that there was not enough evidence to proceed with the case. Cáceres, who coordinates the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), is now free to travel out of the country, although the case could still be reopened. Representatives from some 40 organizations came to the city on June 13 in an expression of solidarity with the activist.

Cáceres was arrested along with COPINH radio communicator TĂłmas GĂłmez Membreño on May 24 when a group of about 20 soldiers stopped their vehicle and claimed to find a pistol under a car seat. Cáceres and GĂłmez Membreño had been visiting Lenca communities that were protesting the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project. The leader of the military patrol, First Battalion of Engineers commander Col. Milton Amaya, explicitly linked the arrests to the activists’ political work: the Honduran online publication Proceso Digital reported that Amaya “accused Cáceres of going around haranguing indigenous residents of a border region between Santa Bárbara and Intibucá known as RĂ­o Blanco so that they would oppose the building of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam.”

According to SOA Watch—a US-based group that monitors the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA)—Amaya has studied at the school on two occasions. (Proceso Digital, May 26; Adital, Brazil, June 14; Kaos en la Red, June 14, from COPINH, Radio Mundo Real, Honduras Libre, Derechos Humanos; SOA Watch, June 21)

In other news, on June 12 US State Department official William Brownfield denied accusations that he had “stymied” an investigation into the killing of four indigenous Honduran civilians in a bungled US-backed narcotics operation at the Caribbean village of Ahuas on May 11, 2012. Agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) were part of the operation, which also employed a State Department helicopter. The accusation against Brownfield, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law-enforcement affairs, came from Aurelia Fedensin, a former investigator for the State Department inspector general’s office who has been leaking internal department memos. One of the memos reported that Brownfield “was not forthcoming” when interviewed by an unnamed agent. He “gave the impression [that State] should not pursue the investigation,” the memo said. (Foreign Policy, June 12)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 23.