Northampton vigil honors slain Honduran activist

  • Miranda Hanrahan, clockwise from left, Tiffany Wilt, Jose Rodriguez, Jamie Guerin, and Gaby Espana, add items to a memorial circle during a peace vigil Saturday in front of First Churches in Northampton. The vigil was held to honor environmental activists killed in South America. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Activist Manuel Pintado attends a peace vigil Saturday in front of First Churches in Northampton. The vigil was held to honor environmental activists killed in South America. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Organizer Oonagh Doherty speaks during a peace vigil Saturday in front of First Churches in Northampton. The vigil was held to honor environmental activists killed in South America. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Smith College student Miranda Hanrahan, 19, lights candles during a peace vigil Saturday in front of First Churches in Northampton. The vigil was held to honor environmental activists killed in South America. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Organizers Oonagh Doherty, left, and Em Jollie perform an aboriginal song during a peace vigil Saturday in front of First Churches in Northampton. The vigil was held to honor environmental activists killed in South America. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Jamie Guerin, of Northampton, attends a peace vigil Saturday in front of First Churches in Northampton. The vigil was held to honor environmental activists killed in South America. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

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    Smith College student Tiffany Wilt, 21, makes a sign reading "What is the route?" during a peace vigil Saturday in front of First Churches in Northampton. The vigil was held to honor environmental activists killed in South America. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Pamela Snow, of Shelburne Falls, left, and Smith College student Miranda Hanrahan, 19, add pine needles, flowers, and candles to an honoring circle during a peace vigil Saturday in front of First Churches in Northampton. The vigil was held to honor environmental activists killed in South America. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Activist Manuel Pintado attends a peace vigil Saturday in front of First Churches in Northampton. The vigil was held to honor environmental activists killed in South America. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

  • Mary Ellen Alicandri, of Amherst, adds flowers to an honoring circle during a peace vigil Saturday in front of First Churches in Northampton. The vigil was held to honor environmental activists killed in South America. DAN LITTLE—Daily Hampshire Gazette

@amandadrane
Published: 3/26/2016 7:12:59 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As organizers Em Jollie and Oonagh Doherty kicked off a peace vigil with a chant on the steps of the First Churches on Saturday, about 30 people took turns laying down pine needles and carnations to form a ceremonial altar.

The somber-toned vigil honored Berta Cáceres, a human rights and environmental activist killed in Honduras on March 3. Organizers of the event said they were honoring her among other “murdered and missing indigenous environmental activists” in Central and South Americas.

Blame for the many murders — the Guardian reports 1o1 campaigners were killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2014 — can be traced in part to the United States because its tax dollars help fund a Honduran military that is at best complicit in the executions, according to organizers of the vigil.

Cáceres, co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (Copinh), last year was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for standing against Central America’s biggest hydropower projects, including the Agua Zarca dam. She also was lauded for opposing powerful landowners, police and mercenaries.  

“These are women and men who’ve been murdered in service to justice and peace,” said Kathy Daly of Western Mass Code Pink, a social justice group that co-sponsored the event with the First Churches of Northampton Peace and Justice Committee. “We’re here to mourn Berta and this is a lovely way to do it.”

Susan Triolo, a retired Sunderland schoolteacher who has taken her activism to South America, said she attended Saturday’s ceremony to show her opposition to U.S. support for the corporate takeover of indigenous peoples’ lands.

“We have a very ugly history in Latin America,” she said, wearing a sign showing photos and information about Cáceres. “And it’s not getting any better.”

As people took turns stepping up to the microphone to read poems and make statements, others reached into a bucket of flowers and added to the growing circular altar on the concrete walkway.

Paki Wieland, an outspoken political activist and opponent of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline project that would pass through western Massachusetts, said Cáceres’ spirit hovers overhead as “we fight against environmental degradation.”

“Berta Cáceres presente,” said Wieland in Spanish, starting a wave of call and response. “We’re speaking for her just as she spoke for us.”

Sign-bearing participants formed a half-circle around the ceremony’s perimeter. “Berta Cáceres no murió; ella multiplicó,” read one sign. (“Berta Cáceres didn’t die; she multiplied.”)

Later in the ceremony, Doherty read names from a list of killed activists.

“Look at their faces,” she said, calling attention to a handout with photos of the victims. “For every one of them you see there are dozens you don’t know about.”

As Doherty read their names, Pamela Snow, 52 of Shelburne Falls wrung a handkerchief free of water, dripping it onto the greenery around the altar. In doing so, Snow said she was honoring their “life and energy and their memory.”

“I’m just trying to keep everything green,” said Snow.

Doherty said living in Central America as a child made a big impression on her. She said she watched as the war in El Salvador resulted in thousands of deaths of indigenous people that went uncovered by media  in North America.

“The silence in our press was inexplicable,” said Doherty, adding she was moved to act when she heard about Cáceres’ death. “If she —  who’s internationally famous — wasn’t safe, then how much less safe are those who aren’t?”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.


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