Several members of the United States Congress are pushing to stop all military aid to Honduras until “gross human rights violations” are addressed. Their proposed legislation is named after indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in her own home in March. 

Sponsors of the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act say by sending millions of dollars in aid to the Honduran police and military, the US is financing the same forces found to be attacking and killing activists like Cáceres. 

Honduran authorities have arrested six people in connection with her death, including an army major and employees of the company constructing a hydroelectric dam on indigenous land, which Caceres spent a decade fighting against. Her family has called for an independent investigation, and activists say the culprits are not just local forces but foreign governments and international development groups turning a blind eye to the killings.

This year alone, the US has pledged more than $100 million in military and humanitarian aid to Honduras and called for greater business investment in the country. The World Bank and its lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), are helping support that investment. Advocates of such aid say it is helping stabilize Honduras and the government that came to power after a 2009 military coup ousted democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya. 

Hillary Clinton, who was then US Secretary of State, said Washington did not want to make the situation worse for the Honduran people by recognizing the coup, because “if the United States government declares a coup, you immediately have to shut off all aid including humanitarian aid, the Agency for International Development aid, the support that [the US was] providing at the time for a lot of very poor people”.

But what is the cost of such aid? When an internal IFC investigation revealed it failed to apply ethical standards in loaning a palm oil company $30 million, despite its alleged ties to death squads, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said the incident forced the Bank to ask “do you continue to work in a place where there are these kinds of problems”? 

He says yes, but with greater checks and balances. Will the US take such steps? The Stream talks with US Representative Hank Johnson, sponsor of the Berta Cáceres bill, and discusses the price of development.

On this episode of The Stream, we'll speak to:

Hank Johnson @RepHankJohnson
Member of Congress, Georgia

Silvio Carrillo @justiceforBerta

Guillermo Pena @GuillermoP_HN
Executive Director, Eleuthera Foundation

Salvador Rodenzo
Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Honduras, Canada​

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