Berta Caceres was an Indigenous feminist environmental activist who lived in Honduras. She fought patriarchy and capitalism while protecting the land of her people, the Lenca. The organization she formed and led – the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) – was responsible for stopping a major hydroelectric dam project that would have had a significant negative impact on the land, rivers and way of life of the Lenca. COPINH was a leader in fighting internationally resourced projects that would cause harm to the Honduran environment.
On March 2, 2016, Berta was assassinated while she slept in her home. To date, nine men have been arrested for allegedly being involved in planning and executing her murder; most recently, Roberto Castillo, who was executive president of the Honduran company (DESA) building the dam she fought to stop. Several of the men have ties to paramilitary organizations, and at least two received training in the United States at the former School of the Americas. No trials have taken place.
Berta’s work is the subject of a documentary called Berta Vive, which I saw a few days ago in San Miguel. Following the film, American journalist and Director of the Mexico-City based Americas Program of the Centre for International Policy, Laura Carlsen, spoke about Berta’s legacy and, more generally, the leadership of Indigenous women in struggles throughout Latin America.
She brought news about a recent gathering in Chiapas, Mexico, for activist women from around the world. Led by 2,000 Zapatista women, approximately 8,000 women gathered for three days of planning and playing. Listening to what Laura had to say, I succumbed to an emotion I don’t experience very often – outright jealousy – that I had not known about this event in time to attend.
The theme of the gathering – the first of its kind – was for women to find commonalities across difference, which seems to me to be a timely (and timeless) vision. Our struggle against misogyny and the patriarchy must surpass our differences with one another.
“On principle, I refuse to speak badly of another woman, even if she has offended me intolerably. It’s a position that I feel obliged to take precisely because I’m well aware of the situation of women: it’s mine, I observe it in others, and I know that there is no woman who does not make an enormous, exasperating effort to get to the end of the day. Poor or affluent, ignorant or educated, beautiful or ugly, famous or unknown, married or single, working or unemployed, with children or without, rebellious or obedient, we are all deeply marked by a way of being in the world that, even when we claim it as ours, is poisoned at the root by millennia of male domination.”
We greet you with respect and affection as the women that we are – women who struggle, resist and rebel against the chauvinist and patriarchal state. . . And we know that things are now worse because now all over the world we are being murdered. And there is no cost to the murderers – the real murderer is always the system behind a man’s face. . .
Thus we invite all rebellious women around the world to The First International Gathering of Politics, Art, Sport and Culture for Women in Struggle.
What about the men?
If you are a man, you are listening or reading this in vain, because you aren’t invited. . .
We are going to put them [men] to work on all the necessary tasks so we can play, talk, sing, dance, recite poetry and engage in any other forms of art and culture that we want to share without embarrassment. The men will be in charge of all necessary kitchen and cleaning duties.
[With respect to small boys]: you can bring them. The experience will serve to begin to get it into their heads that we women will no longer put up with violence, humiliation, mockery or any other fucking around from men or from the system.
And now what?
We can compete between us and the end of the gathering when we’re back to our world and we will realize nobody won or we can agree to fight together, as different as we are, against the patriarchal capitalist system that is harming us and killing us.
Let’s make the right choice, women.