On the same day that we had to endure yet another stunningly vulgar, puerile assault on the once-noble idea of leadership for these United States — I’m talking about the sad excuse for a “presidential debate” that had some boys bragging about their manhoods in Detroit — a real leader of great courage and conviction for her people was gunned down in her home in Honduras — Berta Caceres.
And at the same time, halfway around the world, as the appalling amoral xenophobia of some would-be presidents promises billion-dollar high walls and deportation of refugees, four religious women were massacred in Yemen along with more than a dozen of their elderly patients in a retirement home.
While some men here brag about leadership as a command-and-control exercise in which they would order the military to torture suspects and kill civilians in violation of all international laws, around the world many women are exerting the real idea of servant leadership, living among the people who need them most, advocating for justice for people who have no voice, standing up to bullies and tyrants and murderous dictators knowing full well that they risk everything for the sake of their people.
I confess I was not previously aware of the amazing work of Berta Caceres, but the awful tale of her assassination is utterly reminiscent of the murder of Sr. Dorothy Stang, SND in the Amazon basin ten years ago. Like Sr. Dorothy, Berta Caceres was a staunch advocate for environmental justice, organizing her people in opposition to the building of a dam across the Gualcarque River in Honduras, a project that would destroy the river, the homes and culture of the indigenous Lenca people. Caceres won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her advocacy. A report by the organization Global Witness calls Honduras the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists. Global Witness goes on to state:
“We found that at least 116 environmental activists were murdered in 2014 – that’s almost double the number of journalists killed in the same period. A shocking 40 % of victims were indigenous, with most people dying amid disputes over hydropower, mining and agri-business. Nearly three-quarters of the deaths we found information on were in Central and South America.” (Global Witness website, full report downloadable from this website)
Unlike Sr. Dorothy Stang, who was an American Sister of Notre Dame working in Brazil — she was an advocate for indigenous people in the Amazon and was shot to death by ranchers who minded her opposition to logging — Berta Caceres was an indigenous leader of the Lenca people, organizing a decades-old grassroots campaign to fight for justice and human rights in Honduras, a nation sick with violence and oppression. She was murdered in her home at night, surely a cowardly act by the assassins.
It’s important to note that what’s going on in Honduras has a direct relationship to issues in the American presidential campaign — thousands of the refugees trying to flee into the United States across the Mexican border are women and children trying to escape from the brutal regime in Honduras. These are the people against whom various presidential candidates want to build high walls. (And, by the way, the military junta who staged the coup in Honduras in 2009 were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas, a topic for another blog…)
Meanwhile, in Yemen, the murder of the four nuns — members of the Missionaries of Charity, an oder founded by Mother Theresa — is another example of the violence and anarchy sweeping a country that is essentially abandoned by world powers. Speaking this Sunday, Pope Francis condemned these murders:
“These are today’s martyrs,” he said, referring to the four nuns, members of the Missionaries of Charity order founded by the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “They aren’t on the front pages of the newspapers, they aren’t news,” Francis said. “These people are victims of an attack by those who killed them but they are also victims of indifference, of this globalization of indifference.”
While the blood of courageous women leaders stains some of the bleakest places on earth, here in the United States some men who would be president trash talk each other and degrade this nation’s real values in the most outrageous ways, then retreating to the safety of country clubs and posh hotel rooms ostensibly to plot another ridiculous round of mud-slinging. Where is the leadership for the world? Where is the articulation of true American values on behalf of the people of this earth? How can we — We, the People — continue to indulge this cheap, tawdry, insulting reality TV show while millions are suffering at home and elsewhere?
The great American organizer Mother Jones allegedly once said: Pray for the dead. Fight like hell for the living!
As we pray for and honor Berta Caceres and the nuns and retirees in Yemen, let’s step up our insistence that this nation and our leaders need to start standing up for our real values, among which the human rights to life and liberty are fundamental.