Silvio Carrillo remembers going to La Esperanza, Honduras, as a child and seeing the passion his aunt, Berta Cáceres, had for people who had suffered a tragedy.
“I remember being with Berta when an indigenous woman brought in a little boy around 5 years old, who was so malnourished and died because of that,” said Carrillo, a freelance journalist and 1995 University of Maryland alumnus. “Berta knew that she needed to continue to help the indigenous community to prevent more deaths of little kids from happening.”
Cáceres, a Honduran human rights and environmental activist and a leader for the indigenous Lenca people and other groups in the region, was killed in her home in La Esperanza on March 3.
Two of her relatives, Carrillo and his nephew Daniel Rodriguez, also an alumnus of this university, are now among the many speaking out against her death and the violence in Honduras.
Though the details surrounding her death are still uncertain and police call the incident a botched robbery, many in Honduras believe the shooting was a political assassination, according to The Daily Beast.
While in Washington this past week, Carrillo lobbied to Congress to stop funding to Honduras.
“We asked to suspend all security and military aid to Honduras and to review any other aid provided to the Honduran government in order to pressure their government to allow for a serious, independent international investigation by an organization with a mandate of Berta’s murder,” Carrillo said.
Rodriguez, a 2009 alumnus who works in IT management, traveled to Honduras for her funeral. He said his aunt should have not had to lose her life the way she did.
“She was so well-respected in her community,” Rodriguez said. “They just wanted to silence her because her beliefs were different from theirs.”
Before her death, Cáceres was actively opposing a dam project that would take land away from the Lenca indigenous people in Honduras, Carrillo said.
Ana Patricia Rodriguez, a professor in the Spanish and Portuguese department, said Cáceres died for something she believed in.
“To be a person that advocates for the rights of everyday people — indigenous, women, children, poor, et cetera — will get you killed in Central America,” she said. “This is not something of the past. … It’s happening now.”
Trade agreements in Central America aim to privatize land and sell the holdings of indigenous communities, Ana Patricia Rodriguez said. Opponents of these land deals suggest they are just a way for companies to access resources in the areas, she said, and the ownership of their own land is something indigenous people in Central America have “fought for centuries” for.
Though this happened in Central America, Rodriguez said this is an issue that is also particularly relevant to this area because of the immigrant community here.
“We are an institution that is embedded in this region with these mass migrations, particularly from Central America,” she said.
Ana Patricia Rodriguez said the university should work to increase resources for these communities, such as programs and scholarships, so students can learn more about the issues that affect politics in the region and the goals Cáceres worked for.
“We could also develop activism,” she said. “We have activism here on-campus, but students need to become more aware on ways to use our energy to work in that area.”
Carrillo said many students at this university might not have known who his aunt was, but what she was fighting for was important to many, even outside Honduras.
“What she was fighting for in Honduras benefits people of all ages in any place of the world,” Carrillo said. “We want people to be aware of what is happening in Honduras because we want to be able to prevent it from happening in their countries.”
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, Berta Cáceres’ name was misspelled in the headline and the body of this story. The article has been updated.