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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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Blames Indigenous Tribes For Amazon Fires

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Blames Indigenous Tribes For Amazon Fires

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President Jair Bolsonaro is blaming the indigenous community for the fires that raged in the Amazon. The fires set off international outrage as the rainforest faced unprecedented destruction by out of control fires. President Bolsonaro went against the rest of the international community during a speech to the U.N.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wants the United Nations to know that indigenous people were responsible for the Amazon fires.

In a remote session opening the U.N. General Assembly, President Bolsonaro spoke at length about the indigenous communities starting the fires. He also used the speech to speak out against the criticism his administration is receiving over his environmental policies and his response to Covid. Brazil is currently the second most infected country in the world with the second highest death rate.

The Amazon has experienced increased fires since President Bolsonaro took office.

For the first seven months of 2020, 13,000 sq. km. (5,019 sq. miles) of the Brazilian rainforest have burned. This year saw the second-highest level of fires on a global scale with fires raging across the Amazon, Australia, and the West Coast of the U.S.

President Bolsonaro openly contradicted expert findings to fit his narrative.

President Bolsonaro claims that the humidity of the forest contains the fires. According to President Bolsonaro’s speech, fires in the Amazon only happen in certain areas because of how well the humidity can keep the fires in check.

“The fires practically occur in the same places, on the east side of the forest, where peasants and Indians burn their fields in already deforested areas,” Bolsonaro said.

President Bolsonaro’s speech touches on the environmental record his administration is known for.

The Bolsonaro administration has made dismantling environmental and indigenous rights since taking power. The administration has worked to limit the amount of land available to indigenous people and to open up Amazonian rainforest to miners, loggers, farmers, developers, and other uses that are damaging and contributing to the fires. Deforestation by these industries are largely to blame for the out-of-control wildfires that burned for a very long time in the Brazilian Amazon.

Activists are getting ready to fight for the indigenous community and the rainforest.

“We must denounce this political catastrophe that destroys the environment and our future,” Sonia Guajajara, head of Brazil’s main Indigenous umbrella organization, to NBC News.

READ: Under Bolsonaro, The Brazilian Amazon Has Reached Record-Breaking Levels Of Deforestation

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Latina L.A. County Deputy Was Shot In The Face But Saved Her Partner’s Life After A Gunman Ambushed Them

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Latina L.A. County Deputy Was Shot In The Face But Saved Her Partner’s Life After A Gunman Ambushed Them

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A shooting that occurred over the weekend in Compton, California has sparked shock, alarm, and outrage.

The shooting occurred sometime around 7 p.m. on Saturday at MLK Transit Center in Compton. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the gunman made his way toward the passenger’s side of the deputies’ car and shot two deputies with a pistol without precedent.

One of the victims is a 31-year-old mother.

On Saturday, the sheriff’s department tweeted surveillance footage of the shooting which also captured the gunman fleeing the scene.

According to reports, the gunman fired into the deputies’ car without pretext.

“This is just a somber reminder that this is a dangerous job, and actions and words have consequences. Our job does not get any easier because people do not like law enforcement,” Alex Villanueva, the 33rd Sheriff of Los Angeles County, said in a statement. “It pisses me off. It dismays me at the same time.”

According to Villanueva, both of the deputies (Claudia Apolinar a 31-year-old mother and a 24-year-old man) were sworn in just 14 months ago and are in critical condition at the hospital. According to the sheriff’s department both are “fighting for their lives” but “it looks like they’re going to be able to recover.”

Apolinar and her partner were both shot at close range. Apolinar was shot in the face and torso and her partner sustained multiple gunshot wounds Seeing that he was in need of immediate medical treatment, Apolinar managed to make a tourniquet for him before medics arrived.

According to the New York Post, Apolinar is a former librarian who graduated from the academy last year.

“We’ll see what the long-term impact is. We don’t know that yet, but they survived the worst,” Villanueva explained.

Local officials have announced a $100,000 reward for information on the gunman and his whereabouts.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden spoke out against the attack and condemned it in a statement calling “Acts of lawlessness and violence directed against police officers are unacceptable, outrageous, and entirely counterproductive to the pursuit of greater peace and justice in America — as are the actions of those who cheer such attacks on.”

Speaking about the incident, Democratic US Rep. Adam Schiff called the attack “cowardly.”

“Every day, law enforcement officers put themselves at risk to protect our community,” Schiff stated in a post shared to Twitter. “I hope the perpetrator of this cowardly attack can be quickly brought to justice.”

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