Honduras registers most migrants who pass through its territory en route to the United States. Since August 2022 it has waived fees required to register (and thus be able to board a bus), so the country’s data does capture most in-transit migrants.
These are mostly people who passed through the Darién Gap or began their journey on the American mainland in Nicaragua, which has relatively loose visa requirements.
Honduras also shares its migrant registry data almost in real time. And looking at that data right now yields a startling result.
This number averaged 23,660 per month between August 2022 and June 2023. It jumped to 48,971 in July, and to 63,615 in August. More than half are Venezuelan.
We’re seeing similar increases in migrant encounters in Panama and Mexico, and now at the U.S.-Mexico border. Migration at the border is probably, once again, going to be a big issue in the U.S. political debate this fall, as the 2024 elections approach. And that’s bad, because the pre-electoral debate is very unlikely to capture the complexities of migration management and processing—a very complex set of challenges.
Through July 30, the month saw 52% more migration than second-place October 2022, and represented a 75% increase over June 2023.
Countries with over 1,000 migrants through July 30 were Venezuela (51% of the total), Cuba, Ecuador, Mauritania, Haiti, Senegal, and Egypt.
96 percent of registered migrants did so in the Nicaragua border-zone towns of Danlí and Trojes, in El Paraíso department. We visited that zone at the very end of April, and posted photos and a report, when the flow of migrants was less than half what it was at the end of July.
Why we visited: WOLA has done extensive research on the U.S.-Mexico border, throughout Mexico and the Mexico-Guatemala border, and the Darién Gap has begun to draw attention. But the U.S – Mexico border is the end of a long journey, and much of what happens elsewhere along the U.S.-bound migration route is poorly understood. WOLA wants to tell the story of what’s happening at key stages of the migration route because needs are urgent and the region is experiencing unprecedented human mobility.
What we found: Honduras, like its neighbors, now experiences four kinds of migration:
Hondurans who are departing
Hondurans who are internally displaced
Hondurans deported back from other countries
International migrants transiting the country
As everywhere along the migration route, numbers of international migrants passing through the country are up, as the land route from South America has opened up since 2021. Many U.S.-bound migrants are from other continents. To reflect this new reality, humanitarian aid providers call on international and national funding to be more consistent and reliable.
For migrants transiting Honduras, the country is a “respiro”—a place to catch one’s breath—or even a “sandwich” between arduous and unwelcoming journeys before (Darién Gap, Nicaragua) and after (Guatemala, Mexico).
This is largely because Honduras is neither deporting nor detaining most migrants, and it has waived a fine that it had been charging for travel documents required to board buses. That fine had left many migrants in Honduras stranded, while providing corrupt authorities with an opportunity for extortion. Upon entry, most migrants now register directly with the government without the need to pay a fee. This reduces opportunities for organized crime. It also makes transiting the country slightly more bearable and provides a more accurate registry of those who enter the country. This “amnesty” policy is a necessary alignment with reality. Honduras should make it permanent, and other countries along the route would do well to emulate aspects of it.
Migrants—both those transiting Honduras and Honduran migrants departing the country—are traveling with widely varying levels of information about what lies ahead. While some were aware of the “CBP One” app and the significance of May 11, 2023, the day that Title 42 ended, almost no migrants with whom WOLA interacted had clear knowledge of the complex U.S. asylum process. Some did not even know how many more countries remained to cross in the days ahead.
The United States and Mexico deport 1,500-2,000 Honduran migrants in a typical week. Attention to deported migrants as they arrive in Honduras is supported by the U.S. government, indirectly through international organizations and humanitarian groups. Conditions are relatively dignified and well resourced, despite some serious short-term needs. But assistance with reintegration largely stops at the doors of the reception centers. Security risks are high, but economic and psychosocial needs are the most urgent.
Upon arrival in Honduras, deported migrants share alarming testimonies about the treatment they receive while in the custody of, and being transported by, U.S. law enforcement agencies. These rarely end up with investigations or discipline because pathways to reporting are often unclear or inaccessible, especially when witnesses are deported.
International humanitarian officials and Honduran experts joined calls for more clarity and stability in U.S. immigration policy, and simpler access to reliable, current information about existing legal pathways to migration.
Key reasons Hondurans migrate overlap in complex ways. It is hard to extricate economic need from the security situation as gang extortion has shuttered businesses and depressed economies. Corruption—and impunity for corruption— in turn feed a national malaise and sense of rootlessness or hopelessness that spurs migration. Add to these: discrimination, domestic violence, the effects of climate change, and the need to provide remittances to loved ones.
WOLA’s time in Honduras was a reminder of the pressing need to find long-term alternatives to mass migration flows. These include community-based and institutional reforms that address the conditions forcing people to leave: poverty, violence, impunity, corruption, persecution, climate change, domestic violence, and a general sense of “rootlessness.”
Experts and service providers warned against being tempted by quick fixes that promise short-term results at great long-term cost, like the state of emergency and mass incarceration that President Nayib Bukele is carrying out in neighboring El Salvador.
This talking point about a “95% drop in border migrant encounters from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela” is problematic.
Why? Let’s examine encounters along the migration route, from north to south.
Here’s where the 95% comes from.
US Border Patrol’s apprehensions of these 4 countries’ migrants really did drop steeply from December—after Mexico agreed to accept Title 42 expulsions of these nationalities, and once a “humanitarian parole” option opened up for some of them.
But there’s no 95% drop anywhere else along the migration route, where people fleeing those countries have become stranded.
Since December, Mexico’s encounters with these 4 countries’ migrants are only down 42%.
Since December, Honduras’s encounters with Cuban, Haitian, and Venezuelan migrants are up 10%.
(Nicaraguan citizens don’t need passports to be in Honduras, and thus don’t end up in Honduras’s count of “irregular” or “undocumented” migrants.)
Since December, in Panama’s Darién Gap, migration from Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela is up 250% (though down 57% from a high in October, before Mexico started accepting expulsions of Venezuelan migrants).
The upshot: migration from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela may be down sharply at the US-Mexico border, due to aggressive Title 42 expulsions.
But the expulsions have absolutely not deterred these nations’ citizens from migrating. They’re still fleeing—but they’re stranded.
This is a quick reaction—and discussion of solutions—with my colleagues Maureen Meyer, Joy Olson, and Ana Lucía Verduzco, who were with me over the past few days to witness a mounting humanitarian crisis.
This podcast was recorded in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where WOLA staff are on a field visit to research migration. Four current and former WOLA staff members—Adam Isacson, Maureen Meyer, Ana Lucia Verduzco, and Joy Olson—visited the Honduras-Nicaragua border region over the April 29-30 weekend.
While there, we saw—and spoke with—migrants who had just entered the country from the south, after a harrowing journey through Panama’s Darién Gap and a hostile reception in Nicaragua. We found:
Hundreds of people, from numerous countries, out in sweltering heat. Many were traveling as families, often with small children.
People waiting to obtain documents that would allow them to take an expensive day-long bus ride onward to Guatemala.
Aid workers—from the Honduran government, humanitarian organizations, and local civil society—doing their best to manage the situation and minimize harm. But struggling to do so with very limited resources.
A Honduran policy that refuses to detain or deport migrants in nearly all cases: a recognition of reality that has reduced the reach of organized crime.
Migrants regarding Honduras as one of the less arduous stretches of the U.S.-bound migrant route. Honduras is in a “sandwich” between harsher policies in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
A wide variety in migrants’ knowledge of what lies ahead, from the dangers of the journey, to the requirements for asylum, to the U.S. government’s confusing and ever-changing policies, pathways, and obstacles, like the “Title 42” expulsion policy that is expected to end on May 11, 2023.
Overall, we can’t help but conclude:
Nobody should have to go through this. What we saw is as severe as one would expect to see from people fleeing an armed conflict. People aren’t fleeing what would be defined as a “conflict”—they are fleeing a 21st century phenomenon of their countries becoming unlivable for a combination of reasons. What we witnessed is the result of governance failures in the region, antiquated migration policies in the United States, and a failure to cooperate and communicate all along the migration route.
Because of this, we’re not going to be able to deter our way out of this. Threatening ever harsher obstacles has failed in the past, it will fail now, and it will carry a terrible human toll.
But until we see fundamental change to U.S. migration policy, and to the conditions forcing people to leave, our communities and the migrants alike will be stuck with a patchwork of partial pathways to legal migration: from asylum to humanitarian parole to partial, inconsistent temporary worker and refugee programs.
Considering the magnitude of the crisis we witnessed at the Honduras-Nicaragua border, today’s measures are all woefully partial, and no substitute for real reform.
Hello from Tegucigalpa. We’re just back from a couple of days in the Honduras-Nicaragua border zone, in the department of El Paraíso. An extraordinary number of migrants are passing through this zone right now, most of them after passing through the Darién Gap and Nicaragua.
After passing through the Darién Gap, Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, some U.S.-bound migrants get stranded en route as they struggle to raise money to pay bus fares.
At the beginning of this century, Venezuela was one of Latin America’s wealthier countries. Back then, the idea of its citizens using an image of their flag to evoke pity in Honduras—the 2nd or 3rd poorest nation in the hemisphere—would’ve been ludicrous.
I’m flying first thing Wednesday morning for a research trip to Honduras, a country where I have to admit I’ve done little work in recent years. The last time I was there was 2005 or 2006. I look forward to working again in Central America, where I started my career in the 1990s.
I’m sorry, of course, that it’s necessary to do so. Honduras is one of several countries on the route between the Darién Gap and Mexico, a route being transited by something like 1,000 people per day. (Honduras measured an average of 689 “irregular” migrants transiting the country during each of the first 112 days of 2023—mostly from Venezuela, Haiti, and Ecuador—but hundreds more per day probably evaded detection.)
With a few WOLA colleagues, I’ll be in the country’s two largest cities, and in zones along the Nicaraguan and Guatemalan borders. I’ve got a long list of research questions, which will form the backbone of a report I hope to publish as quickly as possible after our return. The outline’s “Roman numerals” so far are:
Migrants transiting Honduras
Honduran migrants returned
Honduran government response
How U.S. government policy shapes what migrants experience
Response of other international actors
I will post photos and impressions (for security reasons, after I leave a region) both here and at my Mastodon account.
I’m grateful to all who have agreed to meet with us in the coming days, and to those who’ve offered me some extremely useful advice as I prepared the trip.
This is the first time in many years that I’ve organized a trip to a place where I don’t already have a lot of relationships with people. In Honduras, I only have a few. But I expect to change that over the next several days.
Addendum added 8pm on April 25: Here’s the nationalities of migrants encountered by authorities in Honduras since January 2022. You can see a notable recent drop in Cuban migrants and increase in Venezuelan migrants. Both are subject to Title 42 expulsion into Mexico, but Venezuelans have become at least somewhat adept at using the “CBP One” app to make appointments for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In this tweet, Honduras’s armed forces report “identifying and securing” a coca field in the country’s rural far east. These bushes are quite tall: they were planted some time ago. Certainly before the term of President Xiomara Castro began nine months ago in late January.
U.S. Southern Command’s online magazine yesterday ran an interview with the general who heads the Honduran armed forces’ Joint Chiefs of Staff. The article is headlined “Honduran Armed Forces in the Fight Against Crime.”
Gen. Tito Moreno lists the following missions currently occupying his military:
fighting against organized crime
fighting against narcotrafficking
fighting against common crime
aerial drug interdiction and “destruction of clandestine landing areas”
countering illicit activities in border areas
rescuing people in cases of natural disaster
Honduras, a poor and unequal country that Freedom House classifies as “partly free,” maintains a military at no small cost in resources ($280 million in 2017), human rights, and political involvement. But do any of these roles require the maintenance of a military?
fighting against organized crime or narcotrafficking: military tactics only necessary if the country has allowed the situation to deteriorate to the extent to which civilian police are “outgunned”
fighting against common crime: this is the foundational role of a civilian police force, and is not a military role
aerial drug interdiction: could be performed by either an air force or a police air wing
countering illicit activities in border areas: elsewhere, frequently performed by police, civilian border patrols or gendarmes
natural disaster search and rescue: could be performed by a civilian emergency corps, though militaries are often the only institution with inactive assets, like helicopters and personnel, that can be “surged” in a disaster
Notably missing from Gen. Moreno’s list is “defending against external aggression” or “combating internal insurgents.” That makes sense, since Honduras faces no credible scenarios in either category right now.
“The Honduran armed forces are still undergoing a crisis of identity and cannot decide whether their role is to defend territorial sovereignty and integrity, protect the state from real or fictitious threats, or else continue performing law-enforcement duties,” the most cited of Honduran civil-military analysts, Leticia Salomón, wrote in 2012, three years after a coup in which Honduras’s military played a central role. The above list indicates that nothing has changed since then.
Two of Honduras’s neighbors, Costa Rica and Panama (which both have Freedom House scores as high—or higher—than that of the United States), confront these threats with police forces that are better trained and resourced than Honduras’s. While those forces have units that occasionally use heavier weapons, particularly near coasts and borders, they retain their civilian character and are not significant political actors.
The interview at Southcom’s magazine fails to make the case for maintaining a military in a small country like Honduras, with few traditional defense threats and enormous development and democratic deficits.
Here’s the great Leticia Salomón of the Centro de Documentación de Honduras, who has been studying Honduran civil-military relations since the 1980s, excerpted in criterio.hn’s coverage of a conference:
“The 2009 coup d’état opened the door for the military to leave the barracks and invade political space, but the National Party [of President Juan Orlando Hernández] turned the military into an armed wing of the governing party,” said sociologist Leticia Salomón during a forum held Tuesday on the anti-military struggle of Berta Cáceres.
Moreover, President Juan Orlando Hernández “in his legal and illegal presidential terms” turned them into “guardians of a personal political project impregnated with corruption and drug trafficking,” the sociologist also said at the virtual event organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh) with the participation of analysts from Honduras, Guatemala and the United States.
The military are also “executioners” of a new version of the “old enemy”, as the defenders of territory and resources are seen, who must be “fought, imprisoned or killed.”
Salomón reflected that “it seems that the old positions of the 80’s are always being revived and that they are there hidden, dormant and always ready to come out at any moment to regain space and to try to impose a vision that is extremely harmful and damaging for the country.”
This reconceptualization of the “old enemy” introduces the concept of criminalization, which has three components. The first, the military and police ready to repress; the second, churches and the media ideologizing the conflict “and introducing a Manichean vision” that turns into good and evil those who are fighting for or against the defense of territories and resources; and the third, the use of the justice system against defenders, in which prosecutors and judges play a fundamental role.
These three instances became the executors of “a conservative, repressive, Manichean and anti-democratic political project”, and explain the role of the military who have specific functions, which, in addition, “they carry out with great enthusiasm”, said the sociologist.
…”The great challenge is to identify who, how, and when will begin the dismantling of this political project and its replacement by another that is capable of recovering sovereignty over the territories, reestablishing a rule of law at the service of national interests, restoring respect for life, for the defenders of resources, and for the defenders of defenders,” Leticia Salomón also said in her message.
She considered that it is necessary to rethink a different model of armed forces and police, and to give “a gigantic shake-up to the justice system” to restore confidence and eliminate the feeling of defenselessness “in which we all find ourselves”.
…Finally, the sociologist reflected that Berta’s anti-militarist struggle, and that of all those who have been carrying it out in recent years, should not only be encouraged and remembered, but should be instilled as an urgent and necessary demand for change in Honduras.
…I’d see this headline from the U.S. military’s Honduras-based “Joint Task Force Bravo” component, and think “this should at least make up for a fraction of what corrupt officials in the Hernández government have probably stolen from the Health Ministry’s budget.”
The supplies, valued at approximately $39,000, under the U.S. Southern Command’s Humanitarian Assistance Program, will increase the local clinics ability to care for COVID-19 patients.
I wonder what size fraction of what’s been lost to corruption since March 2020 that $39,000 adds up to, and how much more effective Defense Department humanitarian aid would be if the U.S. government offered more aid and diplomatic pressure to help people in Honduras who are trying to target that corruption.
…I mean, I would wonder that, if I were a more cynical person.
Why did 1 in every 37 citizens of Honduras end up detained at the US-Mexico border in 2019, after fleeing all the way across Mexico? Why did 30,000 more Hondurans petition for asylum in Mexico that same year?
During the 2010s, as a correspondent for The Guardian, Nina Lakhani covered the brutal drivers of this migration out of Central America. Her reporting was essential reading. Now she has published a book, Who Killed Berta Caceres, that digs into the pathology of Honduras: a nation that, while never prosperous nor just, has suffered accelerated rot during the 21st century, under the dominion of a kleptocratic and organized crime-tied—but stolidly U.S.-supported—regime.
Berta Cáceres was a prominent indigenous and environmental leader, winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. She was murdered in March 2016, in her home in the town of La Esperanza. Her death poignantly anchors Lakhani’s story of a country badly out of control. Though she only talked to her once—an hourlong interview in 2013—Lakhani puts together a vivid biographical portrait of the co-founder of COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. Cáceres was a rarely dynamic individual with great energy and creativity, a natural leader. Who Killed Berta Cáceres makes clear how much Honduras’s vibrant but beleaguered social movements lost upon her death.
In telling Cáceres’s life story, Lakhani is also telling the story of how activism in defense of marginalized people has changed, in Honduras and elsewhere, since the Cold War. The old narrative of class conflict, with radicals opting for violent struggle while elites’ enforcers massacre thousands in the name of “anti-communism,” has faded. Now, social movement work is non-violent, in countries that mostly maintain at least a facade of democracy. People organize around identity—as indigenous communities, as women—more than they do around socioeconomic class, though there is strong overlap. Ethnic and environmental struggles are now paramount, particularly opposition to outside elites’ “projects,” like roads, dams, agribusiness, and mines, that threaten to dispossess people, destroy natural wealth, and shatter longstanding ways of life.
In telling Berta Cáceres’ story, Lakhani explores the strategies to which a group like COPINH recurs in this 21st century context, the extent to which these “work”, and how the organizing and media landscape have changed. Lakhani’s account also places in sharp relief what the threats from those in power have come to look like, and how social leaders are kept off balance by relentless intimidation, attacks, and manipulation of the legal system.
Lakhani cogently discusses the challenges Cáceres faced as a woman leading a Latin American social movement. She faced opprobrium for perceptions of neglecting her children. Meetings were tense. “It was uncomfortable. At times, men stormed out, others insulted her, but this motivated her to do more.”
Everything got worse in Honduras, the book forcefully argues, after Honduras’s 2009 coup, in which business elites and the military deposed a left-leaning elected president. Not enough analysts and policymakers realize what a turning point this was not just for Honduras, but for Latin America. Elected leftists have since been had their terms cut short, with tacit military support, in Paraguay, Brazil, and Bolivia (the latter amid allegations of electoral fraud). After Honduras’s coup came a deluge of land grabs, an acceleration of infrastructure projects like the Agua Zarca dam that Berta Cáceres lost her life trying to oppose. Had the coup and the subsequent orgy of corruption and repression not happened, it’s possible that the flow of migrants from Honduras would be far smaller today.
Lakhani is sharply critical of the United States’ role. The Obama administration, then in its first year, initially opposed the 2009 coup, but quickly lost its resolve. Lakhani puts much of the blame on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, quoting passages from Clinton’s later book. The blame, of course, is more widely spread: the coup plotters spent lavishly on a lobbying campaign that convinced far-right senators to hold up key diplomatic nominations, a form of pressure that proved effective. U.S. NGOs, unable or unwilling to drop everything else on their agendas, couldn’t match that lobbying effort’s energy. While Clinton is clearly a main character for so quickly acquiescing to the coup, neither her book nor Lakhani’s explores the role of Lanny Davis, the Clinton family friend (he was Bill Clinton’s special counsel during his presidency) whom the coup government hired to lead its Washington lobby campaign.
We meet a lot of dreadful characters in Lakhani’s story, most of them men with past military experience who serve as enforcers for DESA, the company seeking the build the dam that would destroy an entire indigenous community’s way of life. Some of them are defendants when Cáceres’s murder finally goes to court. We also meet paramilitary figures in the Bajo Aguán region near the Caribbean coast, doing the dirty work for large estate owners making land grabs to plant oil palms for biodiesel projects. These men are rough, cruel, and corrupt. They are employed by Honduras’s elite, but they aren’t of the elite. They’re on the make, and have found a rare path to social mobility in Honduras, beyond gang membership and drug trafficking.
Peripheral characters in this book are gangs and narcotraffickers, the “badguys” that get the most focus from U.S. policymakers, think tanks, and Pentagon strategists when they make plans for Honduras. In Who Killed Berta Cáceres, the gangs appear mainly as a symptom of the country’s misrule, and the narcotraffickers overlap so completely with the state and the “legitimate” economy that it’s hard to tell them apart.
In one of the world’s most economically unequal countries, Lakhani presents the elite in a nuanced way. Unlike its Central American neighbors, Honduras didn’t inherit its most powerful families from the colonial period or the 19th century coffee boom. The lack of a singularly murderous elite explains in part why human rights abuses in the country during the Cold War, though shocking, were comparatively modest. Those who run Honduras today arose more recently; many are the descendants of emigrants from Christian Palestine. With some key exceptions, they don’t profit from large-scale agricultural landholdings as much as from capital-intensive projects, collusion with organized crime, and corruption. They tend to have a super-capitalist, almost libertarian mindset—the construction of autonomous Ayn Randian “model cities” keeps getting proposed—which endears them to many U.S. policymakers despite their symbiotic relationship with criminality.
This elite functions in close collaboration with Honduras’s U.S.-backed military. Lakhani profiles some of the specialized units that get deployed in social conflicts like COPINH’s struggle. Her portrait of an institution entirely given over to the country’s elites, at the expense of a vast population with few options other than to migrate, shows how infuriatingly little progress Honduran civil-military relations have made since the 1980s transition to formal democracy. It is particularly galling when one sees U.S. diplomatic and military officials heap praise on top Honduran military leaders.
Who Killed Berta Cáceres especially shines in its discussion of the investigation and trial of Cáceres’s murder. Though the reader may need a “dramatis personae” list to keep track of the various middlemen and thugs involved in the murder plot, Lakhani’s narrative is an unflinching look at how impunity works, in Honduras and in much of Latin America. The process drags on. Key witnesses don’t get called. Evidence pointing to higher-ups goes unexplored. Lakhani has difficulty accessing supposedly public documents.
Lakhani meets nearly all of the crime’s material authors in prison, and concludes that they, for the most part, are just trigger-pullers, mid-level planners, or scapegoats. Most of these individuals get sentenced. But who actually ordered Cáceres’s killing, and who were they benefiting? We still don’t know.
“The judges curtailed evidence which threatened to expose a wider conspiracy and criminal network,” Lakhani writes. In the end, even when an internationally renowned social leader is killed, the crime’s masterminds or “intellectual authors” remain, at least for now, out of reach.
“They tried but couldn’t jail her, so they killed her,” Cáceres’s daughter says. “We know it was [the dam-building company] DESA but the question is, who in DESA? It’s going to be down to us to find out.”
Today, in Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernández is a paragon of elite impunity. He won re-election in 2017, which used to be unconstitutional: the president’s consideration of the mere possibility of re-election was a pretext behind the 2009 coup. The 2017 election results occurred under very credible allegations of fraud: the OAS couldn’t certify the result. Hernández’s military, including a newly created military police branch, has systematically put down dissent; Honduras is one of the most dangerous places on the planet to be a journalist, a human rights defender, or an environmental activist. The president’s brother, an ex-congressman, is in U.S. prison for narcotrafficking. Even as U.S. Justice Department documents in the case name President Hernández as a co-conspirator, the Trump administration lavishes praise on him as a partner against migration. The State Department said hardly a word when Honduras ejected an OAS anti-corruption mission last year. Meanwhile, the movement of which Berta Cáceres was a key part remains very active, but is under constant threat and is arguably weaker than it was in 2016.
Who Killed Berta Cáceres tells an old story, but updates it for a 21st century context. It’s the story of a leader who makes the ultimate sacrifice after being branded an “internal enemy” for struggling, nonviolently, to defend her people. “If Berta had been killed in the 1980s,” Lakhani writes, “it would have been considered a political murder mandated by state policy. Today, security forces are still deployed to protect foreign and national business interests, but belligerent community leaders are tarnished as anti-development criminals and terrorists, rather than as leftist guerillas.”
It’s not called counter-insurgency anymore—at least not in Honduras—but it’s the same fight, only the battlefield has shifted. Those who fight nonviolently are the heroes here, and that’s why getting at the masterminds of Berta’s killing is so important. Who Killed Berta Cáceres makes apparent that, if one pulls hard enough on that particular thread of the “intellectual authors,” one might just unravel the entire political-criminal apparatus that has overtaken Honduras.
Until that happens, though, the United States, Mexico, and other countries can expect more waves of Honduran migrants. They’ll be fleeing a country that has become unlivable for all who aren’t part of that apparatus.
I’ve always enjoyed talking to Nina Lakhani over the years as she produced excellent reporting from Mexico and Central America for The Guardian. And I enjoyed recording this podcast with her two weeks ago, as she prepared for the release of her book Who Killed Berta Cáceres: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet (2020, Verso).
Latin America is one of the most dangerous regions in the world to be a human rights defender. In March 2016, Berta Cáceres – a much-admired environmental and indigenous leader from Honduras – was assassinated. Cáceres was a courageous leader, winner of the 2015 Goldman Prize for her efforts to stop dam construction on a river sacred to her Lenca people. But the assassinations of leaders like Berta are rarely investigated or prosecuted all the way to the masterminds. Government, criminal, and economic interests work to silence activists like her.
In this edition of Latin America Today, Nina Lakhani joins Adam Isacson for a discussion on her new book out on June 2, Who Killed Berta Cáceres: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet (2020, Verso). Lakhani is a veteran journalist whose work has brought to light corruption, state-sponsored violence, and impunity throughout Mexico and Central America. She is currently the Environmental Justice correspondent for The Guardian U.S.
Here, Lakhani talks about why she chose to write about Berta and her lifelong activism, helps us understand the multifaceted Honduran context and why social leaders like Berta are targeted, and provides in-depth analysis of her investigations into Berta’s assassination. The conversation ends with Lakhani’s outlook on how the upcoming U.S. presidential elections may affect accountability on what she calls “impunity on every level.”