Opinion: Berta did not die, she multiplied

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Poster of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres

We honor International Women’s Day.

To mark the occasion, various women’s organizations and the Federation of Indigenous Mayan Women (Consejera Mujeres Maya Chorti & Red de Mujeres) held a women’s march. The women and their allies marched from the ancient Mayan ruins in the outskirts of the town of Copan Ruinas to the center of the town. Fists raised in defiance, the women were making known their unanimous opposition to economic imperialism, corruption, exploitation and the violence and abuse that has plagued their communities for far too long.

Unfortunately, the story of exploitation and violations of fundamental rights in Latin America traces back to a long history that has its roots in a tradition of colonization and slavery. Despite popular belief, the culture of slavery and colonization has never really left this continent and many local indigenous communities and campesinos (rural workers) in Honduras continue to suffer from systemic economic and political oppression. With wages under $1 a day, modern hyper-capitalistic economy, as espoused by the United States throughout Latin America, resembles a system of resource extortion and wage slavery.  

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Mayan women’s indigenous march takes control of the city hall. Photo: Josselin Casselman

Women are often most affected

Women are often most affected by the exploits of the prevailing system that has sustained, and in many instances, increased poverty levels throughout the global south. Unpaid labor among indigenous women and in rural communities is a common reality. Indigenous women are disproportionately victims of abuse, harassment and assassination. Oftentimes in these communities, the perpetrators of violence are never prosecuted because the authorities and systems of justice are unresponsive to the plight of the poor and the marginalized. Violence and abuse is part of the normalized experience of indigenous women, not only in Honduras, but throughout Latin America.

The same systems of oppression that saw indigenous nations of the Americas enslaved, massacred and marginalized by the millions during European colonization, very much continues to this day with a modern makeover. Forces of exploitation and colonization today march under the flag of multinational corporations, big business and oligarchical elitist regimes that rarely represent the interests of the common people.  In Copan, where I work, just down the road from where some of the local indigenous communities are located, hydroelectric projects and mining operations are already busy at work extracting precious resources from the rivers and the lands that are part of indigenous peoples’ territories. In the aftermath of their activities, the local populations are left only with pollution and degradation to deal with on their own.  After all, the sickness and infected bodies of the exploited Indians in far away lands are out of sight and out of mind for the average North American consumer, who is solely concerned with the availability of cheap products.

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Mayan women march under the banner of Berta. Photo: Josselin Casselman

People are mobilizing and responding

Fortunately, in the face of ever growing economic, social and political challenges, the people are mobilizing and responding. Women, especially, are increasingly becoming a beacon of hope and leading the way for a brighter future. Yet, women activists here in Honduras are more and more at risk of abuse, murder and violence. The march organized for International Women’s Day by the Mayan women of Copan coincided with the anniversary of the assassination of the world renowned environmental activist, indigenous leader, and human rights advocate, Berta Cáceres. The activists, almost entirely composed of women- mothers, sisters, grandmothers- walked in unison under the banner that read: “Berta no murió, se multiplicó” (Berta did not die, she multiplied). Many of the women present at the march are risking their lives.

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The activists, almost entirely composed of women- mothers, sisters, grandmothers- walked in unison under the banner that read: “Berta did not die, she multiplied.”

Many of the women present at the march risk their lives.

The women of the communities are fundamentally engaged in the fight for the preservation of the environment, sustainability, human dignity and improvement of living conditions for their communities. Women are often concerned with the wellbeing of more than just themselves; they are far more dedicated to also assist their communities, their families, their daughters and sons. Without them and their selfless dedication, the grassroots struggle for justice and human rights would not be nearly as active or effective.

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Berta Lives On, an artistic expression by the local Honduran artist: Andrea Fonseca Cahin

It is the women who are often on the frontlines of the social struggles against oppressive systems and injustice against their communities and their families. It is no exception that in the district of Copan, Honduras, it is the women’s organizations and women leaders who are the most active advocates in defense of fundamental rights.

Suffice to say, it is a sacred duty that we owe to honor the women of our own communities, not just on any particular day, but over and over again every day. For it is through the women’s continued struggle for equality and justice that the spirit of dignity and resistance is kept alive. I am truly inspired by them. To the extent possible, we must all march with the women of the communities side by side, in the same footsteps of Berta Cáceres, if we are to honor our own humanity and the planet – Mother Earth. #BertaVive

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