Participants in the International Gathering bath in Río Gualcarque on April 15, 2017
A member of the indigenous Peche community strongly criticized the poor work of the police on the last day of the International Gathering ”Berta Caceres Lives On,” which ended with a Mayan ceremony on April 17th in Rio Blanco where members of the delegation were assaulted by paramilitaries. The aggressors were paid 250 lempiras, the equivalent of USD$11 dollars, by one of the companies implementing the Agua Zarca dam project, according to local residents.
Participants of the gathering representing 25 countries and national and international media including, HCH, Telesurand Conexihon.hn headed to Rio Blanco to bath in what is considered a sacred river–Rio Gualcarque–and to hold a spiritual ceremony. There were various police checkpoints along the way to Rio and some of the buses were detained and checked. Police were also stationed at various points along the street leading to the river and headed to the community of San Ramon in the municipality of San Francisco in the department of Santa Barbara. Heading towards the downhill slope, there were approximately 25 armed individuals who were carrying machetes and threatening the national and foreign delegates with the aim of instigating violence. These individuals, who could be considered paramilitaries, insulted the first delegates to arrive at the location, who were waiting for the other buses of delegates.
At the conclusion of the day’s events around five in the afternoon, part of the delegation began to return to the same location and make their way to the buses, finding the same paramilitaries with the difference being that they were even more aggressive and some of them were consuming alcohol at a small store nearby. Soon after the arrival of these delegates, the aggressors began to hurl rocks at them.
“The police were also supporting them because when they were throwing the rocks, the police were running away as if they were civilians even as they were carrying shields, instead of using them so that people passing by would not get hurt…that is what I observed that the police were only pretending that they were with us but that is not the truth”, said a Peche participant.
Members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) were also among the injured. Asencion Martinez, Coordinator of Agreements atested, “I identified three or four individuals that were armed with firearms…these three individuals that were advising the group, the majority of whom were not from Valle de Angeles”. He continued, “in trying to protect a female colleague, I got hit with a rock on my back and another here on the back of my leg and they began to thrown rocks and what we was to try to protect the women and many of our male comrades were hit with rocks”. Two other COPINH members were threatened by name; Sotero Chavarria and Tomas Garcia, the new General Coordinator of the organization. Luis de Teran, a Spanish citizen and member of COPINH, was also hurt. The aggressors threw him on the ground, kicked him and hit with rocks and causing fractures in his foot.
The police response was to protect themselves and not the participants of the gathering. Regretfully, they did not disarm the aggressors at any point in time, despite the pleas of the delegation. In the end, only one of these paramilitaries who was fighting with the same police, was arrested. In response to a COPINH request, police sent patrol cars to rescue the remaining participants who remained below at the river and who were at risk had they passed by the aggressors.
While the international gathering at Rio Blanco officially ended on April 15th, the campaign for justice for Berta Caceres continues. In the days following the gathering, COPINH members flew to Europe to demand Agua Zarca financiers FMO and Finnfund to permanently end financing of the project per one of the key demands following the heinous assassination of their leader Berta Caceres.