March 2, 2017
The Vision and Legacy of
By Beverly Bell, translated by Tanya Kerssen
On March 2, 2016, one year ago today, Berta Cáceres was murdered
by the national and local Honduran government and a multinational dam company,
with at least the tacit support of the US. Last September, all the
evidence Cáceres' family had collected over many months was stolen, almost
certainly by the government. The government has also refused to share
information with the family and to allow independent parties like the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to help with the process.
Please contact your US congressperson to urge
him or her to endorse the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act, which is being
re-introduced today, March 2, 2017. It compels
the US government to cut military aid to Honduras until it improves its human
rights record. Please spread the call to your networks, too.
The legacy of Cáceres’ vision and work lives
on. Here, two of her daughters discuss Cáceres’ political, spiritual, and
Beverly Bell: How do you see your mother’s legacy?
Berta Zúñiga Cáceres: It’s a legacy of strong commitment and also many
accomplishments. What stands out most is how Berta was able to recover identity,
culture, spirituality and cosmovision for indigenous peoples, specifically the
Lenca people. This translated into organizing Lenca communities to confront
development models that conflict with indigenous ways of understanding the
In her 44 years, she achieved
so many things - of course, as part of collective work. She didn’t view her
role in a top-down way, as in “I’m saving the people,” but rather she
recognized the values that were already there but had been made invisible.
These related to popular communication, political training, and principles of
anti-capitalism, anti-patriarchy, and anti-racism - both within the
organization and in society at large. She was always very clear about these
principles, above all regarding women.
Laura Zúñiga Cáceres: One of the things my mom leaves behind is the necessity of
questioning the status quo, and from there, of using effective actions to
confront the status quo. That’s why it’s so important to get organized
collectively, to magnify the impact of those actions.
One of the most beautiful
things about my mom was her rebelliousness against economic and cultural
systems, against imposed social roles. She struggled based on her own way of
seeing the world, but was also enriched by dialogue with people who saw things
differently than she did. All this work was done starting from the point of
view of strengthening the collective, and of bringing out the best in people.
thing that’s so important, especially for young people, is to feel that they’re
actors in their own history, to see that things don’t just happen but rather
they happen because we as human beings construct our own history. Berta never
became paralyzed by the world or conformed to it, because she lived by the
principle that you have to struggle for the world that you want.
She insisted that all people
must take responsibility for this historic moment we find ourselves in. And
taking responsibility means acting, it means doing difficult work.
Sometimes we might lose our way, but this is the only way to change it.
thing that my mom had was the capacity to be happy, to not let herself be put
down by anyone but to be joyful. Sometimes it was hard, but in the middle of
any situation, instead of saying, “What’s happening is so terrible,” she would
laugh. It was another tool of her rebellion, and was also a way of constructing
new ways of living.
BB: Many people see COPINH’s work as defensive: the defense
of water, land, indigenous peoples, etc. But we know that there’s a broader
vision. I think it’s the depth and integration of this vision that
distinguishes COPINH, along with the Zapatistas, Sandinistas, and some other
revolutionary movements. What can you say about that alternative vision?
BZC: It’s a
very rich vision and one that exists among many indigenous peoples. It has to
do with building a logic that’s completely opposed to the hegemonic way of
thinking that we’re always taught. The vision and proposals are defiant,
totally different than the academic, patriarchal, racist, positivist vision of
the world. They include relations between people that are much more
communitarian and collective, and that also have a strong relationship to the
global commons and to nature, defying the dominant anthropocentric vision. They
relate to spirituality and the relationships we have with all living beings - a
holistic vision of life.
Indigenous people find
themselves battling extractivism, companies, mining, because that’s the
battleground where these different ways of knowing, of feeling, of cosmovision
This is the wealth of
indigenous peoples. But it also represents a threat for the economic model
that’s based on profits and money, and that’s developed through repression and
LZC: A system
that’s this violent is always going to require a large amount of defensive
work, which takes a lot of energy. It’s very hard to create things proactively,
because you’re always just struggling to survive. And that’s a big victory for
As indigenous people, we have a
culture of resistance and rebellion which is what has allowed us to survive. We
challenge the system using creativity, a different kind of logic, and the
recovery of our history. This goes beyond direct confrontation with the system.
Our creativity, our history, and also our struggle are implicit in everything
With COPINH, our ancestral,
indigenous cosmovision allows us to imagine another world.
does democracy mean for you? What vision of democracy does COPINH
LZC: The word
“democracy” has been distorted. It’s excluded indigenous peoples, negated them.
The depth of real democracy
lies in what COPINH does: building indigenous councils and grassroots
assemblies from the most local level all the way to the general assembly [where
all members discuss and vote on key issues]. The ability to give your opinion,
to speak, in all spaces and at all levels, is so important. It’s is an
opportunity for all people to participate and be included - and not just as
people, but as living beings.
This involves the capacity not
only to speak, but to transform your own reality.
BB: Would it make sense to you to take the vision you’re
talking about in local and communitarian terms, and extend it to national and
transnational political and economic systems? Or would this be contradictory to
your vision of building from below?
it is we decide to build - including to destroy and reconstruct global
structures - if it is to be done in an authentic way, it must begin with a
dialogue in the communities, locally, and then move regionally and globally.
BB: Is there something else you’d like to add?
LZC: I want
to add that the struggle of indigenous peoples, and also of other sectors, is a
struggle for life. We’re protecting the possibility that we may continue
living in this world.
We also have to seek happiness,
in a collective way. We believe that it’s possible to live differently, to have
harmony for all people and not just for a few.