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Environmental Black Ops Getting Common - Sadly many 'foreign' ones have US-ties!
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We end today's show by remembering renown Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated a year ago in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras, just before midnight, March 2, 2016. Berta Cáceres was the co-founder of COPINH, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. In 2015, she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her decade-long fight against the Agua Zarca Dam, a project planned along a river sacred to the indigenous Lenca people. On Thursday, hundreds rallied outside the Honduran Supreme Court building to demand justice for Berta Cáceres and for the license of the company behind the Agua Zarca Dam to be revoked. Eight men have been arrested as suspects in Berta's killing, including one active army major and two retired military members. Two of the suspects reportedly received military training in the United States. Also Thursday here in Washington, D.C., Georgia Congressman Hank Johnson reintroduced the "Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act," which seeks to withhold U.S. military aid to Honduras until the Honduran government addresses human rights violations by its police and security forces. We're turning now to a new investigation that reveals further ties between Berta Cáceres's killing, Honduran military intelligence, and the United States. Joining us from London is Nina Lakhani, a freelance journalist who has been based in Mexico and Central America for the last four years. Her piece in The Guardian is headlined, "Berta Cáceres's Court Papers Show Murder Suspects' Links to U.S.-trained Elite Troops." Nina, welcome to Democracy Now! What are those links?
NINA LAKHANI: The U.S., over the last decade or so, has really focused a lot of its military training in Central America on special forces. We know that over a period, I think, of five years, 2008-2014, the U.S. went 21 times to Honduras to train their special forces. Two of the military men who have been charged with her murder and the attempted murder of Gustavo Castro was special forces. So Major Mariano Diaz who was a veteran special forces officer, at least seven years according to his military records. And also Henry Hernandez, Sergeant Henry Hernandez, who had left the military in 2013, but he was special forces for three years and worked under the direct command of Major Diaz.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about Douglas Giovanni Bustillo?
NINA LAKHANI: Bustillo, he did receive some training as a cadet, I believe, just before he finished his initial military training. Both him and Diaz, who went into the military together, both went to the U.S. to receive training courses. Bustillo did some early training in the School of Americas I think back in 1997.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about the evidence that you've seen, from text messages to phone calls. And if you can re-create for us what you think took place.
NINA LAKHANI: The evidence really points to I think a very well-planned military operation that took place that night. What we know from witnesses is that there is a police and military checkpoint as you come into Esperanza. And that night, many witnesses have told me and other investigators that there was no one there that night. There was none at the base that night. We know from phone records and from testimony that Hernandez and Bustillo, who knew each other from working a private security, in the months leading up to Berta's assassination, have working together in private security. We know that they were in La Esperanza at least three times in the weeks leading up to her murder. And so at least four people were there that night. Hernandez admits to being there. And at least three other civilians who have been accused of murder were placed at her house because of telephone analysis. They went in. They knew what they were doing. They knew where they were going. All of the evidence points to the house. Inside and out had been under surveillance. They'd been there several times. And her house was set back from the main gate. It was a guarded community. There was a guard there that night whoit's very likely they had communication with him. I met with him before because they came in. It was very dark. It's an isolated place. They knew were the door was. They knew where she would be sleeping. So the evidence points to her house and the area surrounding it had been surveyed, had been studied beforehand. All of that points to really like a military-type operation. Hernandez is the one military person that was placed there that night. Like I say, he was special forces. He worked under Diaz. He was a highlyhe'd been a decorated sniper. It's not clear whether he pulled the trigger that night, but it would appear that he was in charge of the operation on the night.
AMY GOODMAN: And why would they want
NINA LAKHANI: He was a low-level military officer and rose to the rank of sergeant.
AMY GOODMAN: Nina, why would they want Berta Cáceres dead, in this last minuet we have?
NINA LAKHANI: I don't think the people under arrest probably did. The context of her Berta's death: she was the most well-known activist, not only in Honduras, but probably in America, at the time of her murder. None of the individuals who were under arrest, none of the eight, had anything personal to gain from her being killed. And the idea that someone as celebrated as her could be murdered without at least the implicit knowledge of people higher up in the Armed Forces or even the government and the company, I think is highly improbable. None of the eight who were under arrest had anything personal to gain.
AMY GOODMAN: But the government? And has the U.S. been held accountable?
NINA LAKHANI: I think the U.S.I don't think the U.S. governmentthey would not admit to bearing any responsibility to Berta's assassination. I think it's important to remember I interviewed her around 2013 just around the elections and she was publicly denouncing the fact she had been told and had been made aware that her name appeared at the top of a military hit-list in which I think there were 16. She was one of 16 activists. She was telling people, you know

AMY GOODMAN: With part two of our report on this first anniversary of the assassination of the renown Honduran environmental activist, Berta Cáceres, killed in her home in La Esperanza, just before midnight, March 2, 2016. Berta was cofounder of COPINH, the Civic Council of Popular Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. In 2015, she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her decade long fight against the Agua Zarca Dam, a project planned along a river sacred to the indigenous Lenca people. Well, a new investigation has just come out in The Guardian newspaper that reveals further ties between Berta Cáceres' assassins, the Honduran military intelligence, as well as the United States, a U.S. trained elite force. Our guest, right now, is Nina Lakhani. She's the freelance journalist who wrote the piece in The Guardian, which is headlined, "Berta Cáceres' Court Papers Show Murder Suspects' Links to U.S.-trained Elite Troops." And she has been reporting on Honduras for years. Nina, thanks for joining us for part two of this discussion. You are highlighting this links to a U.S.-trained elite troops in Honduras. We ended part one by talking about why the Honduran government would want Berta Cáceres dead, the leading environmentalist of Honduras, well known also throughout the world. If you could pick it up from there.
NINA LAKHANI: Sure. Berta was a major problem for the state. She wasn't going away. She had, not just national, but, international attention for her campaign. It was mentioned that she won the Goldman Prize, but she, you know, she'd become a celebrated activist, not just in the Americas, but in Europe, all over the world. And we now know that DESA, the company that has a concession to build the dam - we now know that there are military political and business elites who sit on that board. The president of DESA is an ex-military intelligence officer and worked for the state electricity company. The vice president is an ex-justice minister. Another of the directors is the owner of one of the Honduran's natio- Honduras' national banks. We now really what we know from all the extractive industries in Honduras that there is a revolving door of business, political, and military elites, who have money, who have interests in these really environmentally destructive projects.
And she was a problem. She wasn't going away. Her campaign had got huge attention internationally. And so she that would be the reason. But, I don't think like I said earlier that killing Berta, it's highly improbable it would be the idea, or would be planned by anyone at low level. We have two people connected with the company, are currently accused; Bustillo, who was head of security until 2015, and Sergio Rodríguez, who was a mid-ranking he's an engineer, a mid-ranking he was the communications and environmental manager, but, who had nothing personally to gain. He doesn't have any neither of them have financial interest in the company. So, they would kill organize and kill Berta in what was probably the highest profile murder to take place in Honduras in years. It's just, to me, highly improbable.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how is the investigation of Berta Cáceres' assassination going right now, in Honduras? I mean, you have how many people arrested? Eight?
NINA LAKHANI: Eight men arrested. Like I say, three with military ties, two tied to the companies, and two were tied to the company. Then we have four who were pro prosecutors believe were hit-men, who were low-level criminals working and were hired to do that. I mean, I think there's no doubt that some, at least of the material authors are among that group that have been arrested. But, I think the family are very concerned about procedural sort of errors and procedural sort of inaccuracies or things that haven't quite been right with the investigation. They've not been given information that they should be given. That even some of the that they fear that even some of the material authors are likely to escape justice, that they haven't all been arrested, or that the case may not stand up in court against some of them.
But, I don't see any evidence I haven't seen any evidence thus far that there's a strategy by prosecutors to look for the intellectual authors. Phone records show that there was a hit being planned. It's likely that a hit was being planned. There's phone records - messages between the three ex- current - ex-military officers. But, where was that money coming from? Who's idea was this? There doesn't seem to be a strategy to look higher up. Who were the intellectual authors of this murder? Where does the evidence take us? Because the eight men who are currently in jail, I don't think there's evidence that suggest- any evidence that suggests that the assassination and attempted murder of Gustavo Castro was planned by them.
AMY GOODMAN: The legislation that's been reintroduced by Congressman Johnson to cut U.S. military aid to Honduras, what effect wold that have?
NINA LAKHANI: It's difficult to know. There's so much secrecy about where at what is spent on. I think last year Congress approved $18 $17 or $18 million for police and military aid. It's difficult to know what effect it would have, 'cause I'm just no exactly sure on what the money is spent. For example, the special forces training that takes place, or the support that the U.S. gives to special forces training, it's just there's no information. It's classified. There's no public information about how that money is spent, who the money is spent on, what units, what exactly it goes to. So, I think it's hard to know. I think the certainly the U.S. Embassy in Honduras will say that what they're trying to do in support the moment is the purging of the police which has been, for years a link to horrendous human rights violations, and they're working hard on that. To withdraw completely - Honduras is a militar- it feels and smells like a militarized state. And every year I go back it feels more like that. So, how much $18 million - extra money that we don't know about would make on that I'm not really sure. I think the argument from the U.S. -
AMY GOODMAN: Finally the issue of the number of environmental activists who've been killed in this last year in Honduras, what do you know about this, Nina?
NINA LAKHANI: Since Berta was murdered a year ago, at least seven other activists and land just specifically and environment activists have been murdered. We know that. We know that a few days after she was killed, one of her Code Pink colleagues, Nelson Garcia was murdered. Other campesino leaders have been murdered. But, seven that we are absolutely sure have been who campaign as activists working in the same area as Berta. So, that's 124 that we know of since the 2009 military backed coup. That's it's just incredible number. Her murder has not stopped the outrage and condemnation that followed her murder has not stopped the killing, because impunity reigns.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, when you look at the links to this U.S. trained, elite force in Honduras, what you think the U.S. has to account for now in its relationship with Honduras, even going back to her assassination as you were the one who exposed the kill list with her at the top?
NINA LAKHANI: Yeah. My the army deserter who is - who I've been working with, is absolutely adamant that on two specialist training courses, which sound horrendous, really tough training courses where he reports being tortured, suffering, was hospitalized three times after the training courses, that there were American trainers present, that they would train the trainers, almost. There were American, Colombian, Panamanian trainers present in those training courses. And he was part of an elite force. And I think, just generally, in terms of the special forces, yes, I unders- conditionality and having checks and balances in place regarding who gets training it's a much wider it's a bigger problem, that. These are systematic allegations of human rights violations against security forces in Honduras. Major Diaz has an absolutely pristine military record. There is nothing on his military record which would make him perfectly eligible for U.S. training. And yet, at the time of Berta's murder, he was studying to become a lieutenant colonel at the same time that he was being investigated for drug trafficking and kidnap. You know, the system isn't working. Whatever checks and balances that are in place just isn't working. It's bigger it's a systematic problem of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings; all really serious crimes. There is a systematic problem in the security forces, in the army, and in the police in Honduras. And I think trying to weed out bad apples is not effective. It doesn't work. The checks and balances are not working.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Nina Lakhani, we want to thank you for being with us. We're going to end with the words of Berta Cáseres, herself. Berta Cáseres is the leading environmental activist in Honduras, killed, assassinated a year ago.
BERTA CÁCERES: [translated] The population today, those who have been in resistance who are from the LIBRE party, are challenging the repressive apparatus, with the absence of the construction of real power from the communities, but now these people are voting enthusiastically for the LIBRE party, that we hope will be distinct from the other political parties. This scenario is playing out in all the regions of Hondurasin Zacate Grande, Garifuna communities, campesino sectors, women, feminists, artists, journalists and indigenous communities. We all know how these people have been hard hit, especially the journalists, LGBTQ community and indigenous communities. This is all part of what they've done to create a climate of fear. Here, there's a policy of the state to instill terror and political persecution. This is to punish the Honduran people so that people don't opt for the other way and look for changes to the political economic situation and the militarization.

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"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws. - Mayer Rothschild
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience! People are obedient in the face of poverty, starvation, stupidity, war, and cruelty. Our problem is that grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem!" - Howard Zinn
"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will" - Frederick Douglass

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