Things That Matter

Seven Men Sentenced To Up To 50 Years For The Murder Of Honduran Environmental Activist Berta Caceres

Seven men were sentenced to up to 50 years in prison in a Honduras court on Monday for the 2016 murder of the environmental activist Berta Caceres. Four of the men, Elvin Rápalo, Henry Hernández, Edilson Duarte, and Oscar Torres Velásquez, who were identified as the hitmen hired to shoot Caceres dead in her own home, were sentenced to 34 years in prison each.

An additional 16 years and four months were handed down to them for the attempted murder of Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro, who was also with Caceres during the shooting. Three more prison terms of 30 years were handed down to other individuals that played a part in the murder including an officer, an ex-soldier, and a manager of the dam project that Caceres opposed. The three men reportedly paid the four gunmen $4,000 to kill Caceres because of her activism work. 

The slaying of Berta Caceres, then-45, brought international outrage and protests as she became a well-known women’s rights defender and indigenous lands rights activist. 

Caceras, a member of the Lenca indigenous community, may not have been a household name but her impact in the world of environmental rights was certainly felt. She was one of the co-founders of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, a grassroots organization that advocates for the rights of indigenous people. Caceras gained notoriety by protesting the company Desarrollos Energeticos (DESA), which had planned to create the $50 million Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam across from the Gualcarque River. Various indigenous communities depend on the river staying clean and healthy and free-flowing to sustain their communities.

“The river is like blood running through your veins. It’s unjust. Not only is it unjust, it’s a crime to attack a river that has life, that has spirits,” Caceres told Aljazeera in 2016. 

The building of the dam would have had major impact on water, food and medicine for her Lenca people and even caused flooding. One of her successful protests included placing a roadblock that halted construction workers from reaching the dam building site. After almost 10 years of opposition, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, who was jointly developing the dam project with DESA, pulled out of the project citing community resistance. 

Her activism and work in stopping the building of the dam gave Caceres notoriety and international attention. Caceres was awarded the Goldman environmental prize in 2015 for her role in preventing the building of the dam. The project was suspended shortly following her untimely death.

Authorities have connected her death directly to her activism work against the failed dam project.

The individuals behind the death of Caceres were connected to executives that were connected to DESA and the failed dam project. The reasoning behind the plotted murder was due to multiple delays and financial losses that were linked to protests that Caceres was behind. Back in November 2018, a Honduran court convicted the seven men for the attack. 

“From the outset, the path to justice has been painful, as our rights as victims have not been respected. These sentences are a start in breaking the impunity, but we’re going to make every effort to ensure that all those responsible – the company executives and state officials identified in the trial – are prosecuted,” Bertita Zúñiga, Cáceres’ second-eldest daughter, said after the men were charged on Monday. 

While Caceres’ family is happy to see some justice be delivered, Zúñiga still believes the real culprits behind her the murder still on the loose. She has previously blamed the Atala-Zablah family, a well-known Honduran business group and DESA shareholders, as the ones behind her mother’s murder. 

“This is a day of pain because the intellectual authors of my mother’s murder are still enjoying impunity,” Zuniga said to reporters. “We are not going to believe that there’s true justice until these people are in jail.”

Despite this tragedy, Zuniga is not letting her mother’s legacy go to waste.

The message that Caceres spread of protecting indigenous communities still lives on according to her daughter, who continues to do similar work. She is committed to keeping her mother’s legacy alive and remembers her for the amazing impact she had on marginalized communities around the globe. 

“I remember her as a hardworking person. But I also remember her with a big smile on her face, because I believe that this struggle cannot be just to martyrize ourselves. We fight with joy and hope because if we do not, more than half of the struggle is lost,” Zúñiga told EarthJustice. “We always say that the image of my mother multiplied because we found her present in the struggle of so many women from so many communities who continue to fight very hard.

READ: Women Of The World Unite To Chant ‘A Rapist In Your Way’ A Chilean Song That Has Sparked A Global Feminist Movement

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Hundreds Gather to Mourn Yadhira Romero Martinez, Who Was Violently Murdered in Minnesota

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Hundreds Gather to Mourn Yadhira Romero Martinez, Who Was Violently Murdered in Minnesota

Photo via GoFundMe

Last Thursday, 19-year-old Yadhira Romero Martinez left work. Her housemate, Jose Daniel Cuenca-Zuniga’s, picked her up and drove her home. Surveillance footage showed her entering her home with Cuenca-Zuniga at 6pm. After that, no one ever heard from her again.

On Friday, authorities found Yadhira Romero Martinez dead in the room she rented in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Police found her “with a plastic bag lying across her forehead and wearing only a T-shirt.” There were bruises on her face and her neck. She had “what appeared to be handprints outlined in blood on her thighs.”

Yadhira Romero Martinez rented a room from a woman who owned a home in Minneapolis. She shared the house with at least one other renter, the aforementioned Jose Daniel Cuenca-Zuniga. Romero Martinez had moved from Mexico to Minneapolis last September. According to her family, she had moved to the U.S. for “a better life”.

By Friday, the homeowner realized that something was wrong. Through a cracked door, she saw Romero Martinez laying unconscious on her bed.

Cuenca-Zuniga told the homeowner that Yadhira had simply had too much to drink. But shortly after, the young man packed his belongings and fled. The homeowner then called the authorities after repeatedly knocking on the door and getting no answer.

On Sunday, police tracked down Jose Daniel Cuenca-Zuniga in Ohio, where he had fled. Police have since charged Cuenca-Zuniga with intentional second-degree murder.

Yadhira’s family, as well as the Minneapolis community at large, are grieving over the death of a bright young woman who “didn’t have a bad bone in her body.”

On Saturday, hundreds gathered in Minneapolis to attend the vigil of Yadhira Romero Martinez. Many of the mourners spoke about how the young woman’s murder was an act of misogynistic femicide.

“I didn’t know Yadhira, but I’m here because I’m a woman, like her, and I’m an immigrant, like her,” said one of the attendees to Fox 9 News. “And I’m scared that that’s going to happen to me.”

“It breaks my heart seeing just a Hispanic woman, lady, that gets her life taken away, you know, without doing nothing, without harming nobody,” said vigil attendee, Cesar Vence to WCCO. “Why do these things have to happen, you know, to a young lady that just comes from Mexico to work and support her family?”

On Facebook, Yadhira’s cousin, Jun Romero, wrote a passionate eulogy that doubled as a call-to-action.

“To have her life taken so soon to such a violent and disgusting way was something she didn’t deserve. No one deserves that,” he wrote. “She was my cousin. She was a daughter. She was a sister. SHE WAS A PERSON. I love her and I will miss her.”

He finished his post with: “Please protect your sisters and educate your boys/men. Machismo, sexism, and violence exist in every nook and cranny of our lives no matter how small. If you see it, stop it. Unlearn to stay silent in these matters for the sake of women and fem-presenting people everywhere. She didn’t deserve this and you don’t either.”

Her family set up a GoFundMe page to raise enough funds to “transport her body to Mexico so her parents can do a funeral service”. You can donate here.

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North Carolina Spanish Teacher Dies In Shootout With Mexican Cartel

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North Carolina Spanish Teacher Dies In Shootout With Mexican Cartel

A beloved Spanish teacher at a North Carolina school was killed in a shootout with a Mexican cartel. The Spanish teacher and coach was popular among students, faculty, and staff and lived by the motto “All Love…No Fear.”

Coach Barney Harris was beloved at the Union Academy Charter School.

Harris’ death stunned the community and the school’s social media lit up with memorials and remembrances of the teacher. Students responded with notes honoring the coach. Yet, the varsity basketball and track coach for the Charlotte-area charter school was hiding a secret that quickly came to light shortly after his death.

As students, faculty, and staff expressed sorrow for his sudden death, details emerged that changed the narrative. Turns out that Harris was killed in a gunfight with a Mexican cartel. Authorities in North Carolina revealed that Harris’ body was found in a mobile home in Alamance County, where he allegedly met with drug runner Alonso Beltran Lara.

The details of Harris’ death have shocked more than his community.

The school’s social media pages quickly deleted tribute posts to the Spanish teacher when the details were revealed. Authorities were cautious with releasing the information to make sure that the facts were verified.

“I can tell you this right now. When we are dealing with the Mexican drug cartel, somebody’s probably going to die as a result of this right here, somewhere else. And we did not want to put it out there until we could get a good grip of what’s going on here,” Sheriff Terry Johnson told WCNC.

According to authorities, it is believed that Harris, along with his brother-in-law, killed a drug runner for the cartel and a gunfight ensued. Harris was killed during the shootout.

According to authorities, the two interstates, Interstate 85 and Interstate 40, have created a well-used corridor for moving money and drugs for the cartels.

Authorities seized five firearms, about $7,000 in cash, and 1.2 kilograms of suspected cocaine from the scene. No other people in the mobile home park were injured.

READ: It’s No Surprise El Chapo’s Wife Is In Jail, Her TikTok Was A Look Inside #CartelLife

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