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In Honor of Berta Cáceres, Rep. Hank Johnson Introduces Historic Bill to Stop U.S. Aid to Honduras

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In an unprecedented move, a group of congressmembers are calling on the United States to suspend all military aid to Honduras until the country addresses its gross human rights violations. On Tuesday afternoon, Democratic Congressmember Hank Johnson of Georgia introduced the bill in Congress demanding the U.S. halt all funds to Honduras for their police and military operations, including funds for equipment and training. The United States currently provides hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Honduras through the Northern Triangle’s Alliance for Prosperity Plan. The legislation is named after indigenous and environmental leader Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in Honduras in March. We speak with Georgia Representative Hank Johnson about his landmark bill.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn now to Honduras. In an unprecedented move, a group of congressmembers are calling on the United States to suspend all military aid to Honduras until the country addresses its gross human rights violations. On Tuesday afternoon, our guest, Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia, introduced a bill in Congress demanding the U.S. halt all funds to Honduras for their police and military operations, including funds for equipment and training. The United States currently provides hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Honduras through the Northern Triangle’s Alliance for Prosperity Plan.

AMY GOODMAN: The legislation is called the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, named in honor of slain indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres. In March, she was murdered in her own home in La Esperanza, Honduras. For a decade, she led the struggle against the Agua Zarca Dam, planned along a river sacred to the Lenca people. Honduran authorities have charged five people in connection with her death, including a Honduran army major and employees of DESA, the company behind the dam. But Cáceres’s family has called for an independent investigation.

Congressmember Hank Johnson of Georgia, talk about this legislation, what you’re calling for and why you’re involved with this.

REP. HANK JOHNSON: Well, this legislation would suspend financial aid to the republic of Honduras for military operations and training and also weaponry equipment. It would suspend U.S. financial assistance to Honduras for those purposes until such time as the republic of Honduras can demonstrate that it has adequately and transparently investigated and taken action on the many killings, unlawful and extrajudicial killings, of human rights activists, environmental activists, LGBT activists, human rights defenders in Honduras. There’s been a scourge of killings. The killings have been linked to the corrupt police and security forces and also the military units within Honduras. And it’s time for action. It’s time for the United States to stop supporting these kinds of regimes. Quite frankly, they’re illegal. This is an illegal regime that overthrew a duly elected president. And since that time, this kind of violence has rained down on human rights defenders in Honduras. And it’s time for the United States to stop its support for those kinds of activities by that government.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you named the bill after Berta Cáceres. Could you—did you have a connection, prior connection, to her, before she was killed?

REP. HANK JOHNSON: Yes, I happened to have met Berta when she came to Washington, D.C., about 11 months before her assassination. And we knew her to be a staunch advocate for the Lenca people, a staunch advocate for the environment, against the exploitation of land by transnational corporations who came into Honduras to try to set up hydroelectric dams on rivers that, quite frankly, the Lenca people have historically depended on for their welfare, for their basic food, water, and for their living conditions. And so, for transnational corporations to come in, appropriate Lenca land for their uses, and without any consultation with the Lenca people—and Berta Cáceres was one of those who stood up to oppose that and, quite frankly, had been quite successful in doing so prior to her assassination. That’s what led to her assassination.

And there are indications that the assassination plot goes higher up than just simply people working for these transnational companies. It appears that the military, as well as security units within Honduras, were complicit in this assassination. And it needs to be investigated, and there have been calls for an international independent investigation of the killing. And I’m hopeful that progress can be made in that regard.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Hank Johnson, you have mentioned that, you know, this aid has continued, through the first coup against Mel Zelaya, who was the democratically elected president. Juan, you got a chance to question Hillary Clinton, the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, at the New York Daily News editorial board meeting. She was secretary of state at the time, very quickly recognized the coup at the time and tried to get other Latin American countries to support the new government.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, and I specifically asked Secretary Clinton of about the—about her particular role in terms of seeking—of not seeking to cut off the aid. She tried to make a distinction between a military coup and, in essence, a political removal of President Zelaya. I’m wondering your view of what kind of coup it actually was in Honduras?

REP. HANK JOHNSON: Well, it’s clear that the democratically elected president was removed, and it was against the will of the people. And that individual was not allowed to participate in the new election that resulted in the installation of the current president. And so, in my opinion, when the will of the people is not addressed, then we have problems. And I believe that we’ve got problems in Honduras that stem from that transfer of power. And I look forward to the time when Hondurans are actually happy and satisfied. I’m not talking about just the top 1 percent, but I’m talking about all of the people in Honduras, are satisfied and supportive of their government.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember—

REP. HANK JOHNSON: And I don’t—I don’t see how that can happen when the government is involved in the assassination of human rights activists and people who speak out against government policies. That’s something that the United States should not be supporting.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Congressmember Hank Johnson of Georgia, thanks very much for bringing—for talking to us, co-sponsor of a bill that was just introduced to the House to suspend all U.S. military support to Honduras. It’s called the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, named after the recently assassinated Honduran indigenous environmental leader. When we come back from break, we’ll speak with her successor, Tomás Gómez Membreño, who is in Washington, D.C., right now. Stay with us.

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Successor to Honduran Activist Berta Cáceres: Her Death Is Tied to “Capitalist Neoliberal Policies”

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