By: Óscar Estrada
The book Who Killed Berta Cáceres? (Verso, 2020) from Nina Lakhani, journalist from The Guardian, whose title presents a question so important for the History of Honduras, unfortunately does not have answers. It speculates, yes and much, but fails in the expectations of what should have been a more serious investigation.
Lakhani has made a career investigating environment themes and Human Rights throughout the world. At the moment and according to her words, she is the correspondent to The Guardian in the city of New York, after living in Mexico for several years. As she indicates in her book, se made several trips to Honduras before and after the assassination of Berta Cáceres, whom she interviewed in her house in 2013, when the campaign against Agua Zarca dam gave her the 2015 Goldman prize.
Her book on the contrary, seems like a document created to talk to her close friends, activists all convinced of that “truth”, that she never seeks to question. In a trial, every one of the parts construct their arguments according to the facts they present in favor or against a cause. The judicial truth, that one that the tribunal uses to determine a verdict, is in a place in the middle of the arguments. But the truth about the complex facts like the assassination of a figure with high profile always results more complex than what the parts present in the trial and the writer must, at least get as close as possible to it. To know the version of one of the parts in the trial we have the file of the trial and don’t need a book that tells us the same that we already know.
To construct the most important chapters of her book, Lakhani uses the information revealed in the trial and recognizes it is incomplete. She pretends to use her condition of privileged journalist to access information that the court determined confidential– recognizing the particular condition of the process– and complains when the conditions in the Honduran judicial system do not allow her the access that she would like, as the information of the prosecution and always closes with a “we will never know”. She raises questions that later tells us that she cannot give us answers.
But in those answers where Lakhani seeks to give answers, lacks scientific sources that construct a more complete story of the events that led to the crime and to those that could give a more panoramic vision of the same (family and close friends to those accused of the crime). And when she gets close to them, she harasses them with personal opinions that far from helping in her investigation push her away, because they repel her. So there is few information that can be obtained in an interview from a source that from the start accuses the interviewer of “partialized” and “liar”, it’s for this motive that Lakhani only cites close sources to the victim: friends and family that maintain in unison a Manichaean story through the book, like if only one source can give answers to the question: Who killed Berta Caceres?
The family’s victims, the Honduran activists, people in general, have all the right in the world to have such a partialized vision of things as they want to have. Each one constructs their version of the events with the information they want. The family as victims can point fingers who their reasoning and heart indicate as responsible without worrying to give any proof. It is their right and no one can judge them for that, after all, the loss of a mother, sister, daughter, or a friend and partner like Berta was is irreparable. But Nina Lakhani cannot. She, as a journalist, as correspondent of an international media, she must be responsible of her words, because those words can be used to hurt, even, innocent people. The journalism of investigation is not and instrument to express personal opinions.
Nina Lakhani also does not conform with the judicial truth of the trial, as the family and the popular movement of Honduras say it was partialized. She pretends to go further and point out in her book the “real” intellectual authors of the murder, but, again, does not worry to present any proof. It seems like she doesn’t need them.
Lakhani, even though dedicates three fourths of the book to talk about Honduran History she doesn’t even try to explore the profound reasons of such complex reality and maybe, being auto critics, it wasn’t her responsibility, given the characteristics of skydiving show journalism that she and some biased foreign correspondents exercise when they land in Toncontín to “report” from the “most violent country in the world”.
With a dramatic tone, Lakhani tells in her book a version of the Honduran History that makes her look good, the brave journalist, harassed by the dark forces a state “racist and patriarchal”, even if her descriptions lack content or even, sometimes sin of irresponsible.
Situations so complex as the agrarian crisis of the Bajo Aguán, Lakhani reduces it to an American Western, to a situation of good farmers and bad landowners. She even dares to pinpoint with name and last name -without any proof- the leader of known agrarian movement, immerse in the complete situation of violence in the zone, as responsible of “selling the farmer movement” without knowing that her words can bring deaths to those who might not be responsible of the actions she “knows” because someone told her; and conveniently leaves out the relationship with the ex-congressman for leftist Libre party Rafael Alegria, of the farmer linked to the band of “infiltrated” assassins in the MUCA, Celio Rodriguez, because maybe that relationship “might affect the social movement of the country”.
Then it gives the impression that, in Lakhani’s Honduras, the solution to all the problems reduces to taking out of power a perverse group, inhumane and criminal, responsible for the pillage of natural resources of the indigenous villages, without going furthermore, to the bottom, to some international capitalist relationships where the country is immersed in a market for which has nothing to offer, but its natural resources and people.
The activist of Libre party and the social movement may use the thesis of narco-state or failed state in their speeches, after all they are in a political game in which the truth is stretched at the group’s convenience. But, again, Lakhani can not. She should have gone more in depth of what she is telling us. The version of Honduras for beginners that Nina Lakhani presents us in her book is not enough.
Lakhani talks about drug trafficking and narco state, with the same facility that she talks to us about the Bajo Aguán, again without context, reducing the complex reality to forty years of regional history to only a dozen pages full of personal opinions without source that will allow us, as lecturers, contrast the thesis that she poorly expresses along her book. Honduras is a narco state, she says, and maybe it’s true, but the answer to a reality so complex cannot be reduced to a single political party or a determined person.
In another part of her book, throughout more than 20 pages, the author tells us what seems to be a conspiracy to the highest level, between the Atala family and high government executives, that joined together to eliminate a person who was costing too much for their investments. To say that, anyone can do it, you don’t have to be a correspondent of any international media to say it, hundreds of pages in Facebook are dedicated to point many “intellectual authors” of Berta Cáceres’ crime, groups of business and political power. But Nina Lakhani needs to present proof for a case so complex, her words count for an audience much broader than any of us and maybe if she doesn’t do it, is because she knows, that in the alternate reality that we live in social media, whatever she says can already be an irrefutable truth.
Who killed Berta Cáceres? Nina Lakhani’s book is unfortunately, more a novel of conspiracy theories than a serious journalist investigation, that less or nothing will serve to know the truth, because it comes to tell us more of what we have already heard, without giving us anything new.