- Tomás Gómez Membreñogeneral coordinator of COPINH, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations. He is a member of the Lenca people, an indigenous community in the southwest of Honduras. Membreño became the leader of COPINH after the recent assassination of group’s co-founder, the land rights leader Berta Cáceres.
Today is a global day of action calling for “Justice for Berta”—to remember the slain Honduran activist Berta Cáceres. In at least nine cities across the United States and 10 countries across the world, protesters are gathering today to call on the U.S. to stop funding the Honduran military, over accusations that state security forces have been involved in human rights violations, extrajudicial killings—and the murder of environmentalists like Berta Cáceres. Before her death, Berta and her organization, COPINH, were long the targets of repression by elite Honduran security forces and paramilitary groups. Only hours before she was killed, Berta Cáceres accused the military, including the U.S.-funded special forces TIGRES unit, of working on behalf of international corporations. We speak with Tomás Gómez Membreño, who replaced Cáceres as leader of COPINH.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A global day of action is being organized today calling for “Justice for Berta,” to remember the slain Honduran activist Berta Cáceres. In at least nine cities across the United States and 10 countries across the world, protesters are gathering to call on the U.S. to stop funding the Honduran military, over accusations that state security forces have been involved in human rights violations, extrajudicial killings and the murder of environmentalists like Berta Cáceres. Before her death, Berta and her organization, COPINH, was long the target of repression by elite Honduran security forces and paramilitary groups. Only hours before she was killed, Berta Cáceres accused the military, including the U.S.-funded special forces TIGRES unit, of working on behalf of international corporations.
BERTA CÁCERES: [translated] We have to understand why these projects are so important. The government has all of its institutions at the service of these companies, because they are capable—as in Río Blanco, in the defense that we had in Gualcarque—because these businesses are capable of moving antiterrorism commandos, like the TIGRE commandos, the military police, the national police, security guards, hit men, etc.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Honduras, we’re joined by Tomás Gómez Membreño, the new general coordinator of COPINH. He’s a member of the Lencan people, like Berta, the indigenous community in the southwest of Honduras. Membreño became the leader of COPINH after the assassination of Berta Cáceres, his dear friend.
Welcome for the first time to Democracy Now!, Tomás Gómez Membreño. Can you respond first—first, though, of course, condolences on the death of Berta. But can you respond to what Congressmember Hank Johnson has just announced, the introduction of a bill to stop all U.S. military aid to Honduras?
TOMÁS GÓMEZ MEMBREÑO: [translated] Thank you very much for the opportunity to be on this program for the first time. I think that it’s very important for us, as COPINH, and as the Lenca people to learn about a bill that is aimed at clarifying the assassination of our colleague Berta Cáceres. This is one of the points that we’ve been demanding, that here in the United States—that there might be a bill here in the United States to pressure the government of Honduras with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which we think is important in order to make sure that there’s a resonance of this issue in the U.S. Congress. And it’s very important to know that a bill that has to do with several points we’ve been analyzing, but our goal is to clear up what happened in the assassination of our colleague Berta Cáceres.
I think it has to do primarily with the capitalist neoliberal policies that are implemented by multinational corporations as well as national corporations. These are capitalist policies to the detriment of our territory. There is a dispossession of people from the land. This violates our sovereignty. This violates the cosmovision and spirituality of our people with respect to our rivers and our livelihoods. It’s very important that we, as the Lenca people, can see that the members of Congress, who are the representatives of the state and represent the interests of the population—it’s important to see such an initiative, because this economic support that the United States provides to the Honduran military and security forces comes from the tax dollars paid by U.S. citizens. And that cannot be sent to a state where we are assassinated, which is what happens in Honduras. The military and the police carry out so much repression against our people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Tomás—Tomás Gómez, what is the state right now of human rights in Honduras? Are the death squads back in Honduras?
TOMÁS GÓMEZ MEMBREÑO: [translated] I think that now they have become institutionalized. That is to say, it is these squads—well, Battalion 3-16 is what it was called in the 1980s. And today they’re operating in the military and in the police. Today, this modus operandi has become institutionalized with impunity from the state. For example, with the assassination of our colleague Berta Cáceres, we can identify that a member of the army, an adviser to the military police, is one of the persons who’s been implicated in the assassination of our compañera Berta Cáceres. And the head of the army has also been part of this institutional structure involved. And there’s another—so there’s another nuance. Today, all of this has become institutionalized in the face of a strong struggle to uphold the interests of the population. So this police force and this army answer to the economic interests of the transnational corporations and the economic and political power centers of this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned for your own life? It is incredibly brave of you to assume the leadership of COPINH. You have Berta Cáceres who was killed. Then you have, as well, another COPINH member, Nelson García, who was killed. Are you concerned for your own life, Tomás Gómez?
TOMÁS GÓMEZ MEMBREÑO: [translated] Well, I think that those of us who are engaged in this struggle in defense of the territory, in defense of life, each and every one of us is worried in Honduras, because a war is being waged against those who defend the common goods of nature, particularly those engaged in direct defense of the interests of the population, which is the case of us in COPINH, but also the case specifically of the Lenca people. We’ve seen, before the assassination of Berta Cáceres, we were receiving many death threats from the private company, but also pressure from the politicians of Honduras. And in the wake of her assassination, there have been more death threats, but also the extermination of an indigenous people struggling to defend the common good. So we stand up for life, and the state of Honduras is bringing about a genocide against our indigenous communities.
AMY GOODMAN: Tomás Gómez Membreño, we want to thank you very much for being with us, look forward to speaking to you again. All the best luck. Now the new general coordinator of COPINH. COPINH is the indigenous organization that Berta Cáceres led, until her assassination in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we head directly to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Twenty-three of the 49 people killed in the Orlando massacre were Puerto Rican. We’ll get the mayor of San Juan’s response, and then we’ll talk about legislation in the U.S. Congress that will determine the fate of Puerto Rico. Stay with us.