Environmentalists and Human Rights Activists Visit Pittsburgh

September 1, 2016
By Josh Ellison



Panelists from the Caravan speak at the July 22 event.  Laura Caceres is is on the (far) right.

On July 22, a group of more than 50 Pittsburghers, including many Merton Center members, gathered at Salem’s Cafe and Event Center in the Strip District to welcome a group of activists on caravan from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia convened by Grassroots Global Justice Alliance. The activists came from a variety of different organizations across the country, including the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) and the Vermont Worker’s Center.

APEN is a West Coast organization organizing for clean water and a healthy environment, especially within Asian and Pacific Islander communities. The Vermont Worker’s Center is a democratic, member-run organization organizing for human rights for all Vermonters.

Notably, the United State’s activists were joined by members of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), an organization made up of members of 200 indigenous Lenca communities in Honduras who have engaged in a struggle against environmental destruction, sexism, and the repression of indigenous Honduran communities for over 20 years. COPINH has faced repression throughout its existence,finding increased repression  since a US-backed coup in 2009. Over the last year, numerous COPINH leaders have been murdered in their homes by forces believed to be taking orders from the coup government.

The evening Pittsburghers spent with the caravan participants was fun and productive. After talking to each other and eating dinner, four speakers addressed the audience: one from APEN, one from the Maine Worker’s Center, and two from COPINH.

Laura Caceres, daughter of COPINH co-founder and internationally noted environmentalist Berta Caceres  was  one of the COPINH speakers. Laura delivered a moving address, speaking of the  struggles of COPINH against those who would destroy them, the life and legacy of her mother Berta, recently murdered, , and the future of the movement in Honduras.

Berta Caceres’ death has sparked international grassroots and legislative action, including the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act (H.R. 5474) which was recently introduced in the House by Rep. Hank Johnson. The Berta Act would stop all US aid to Honduras until the restoration of the citizenry’s human and civil rights. One grassroots organization advocating for the passage of this bill is School of the Americas Watch.  Congressman Mike Doyle has agreed to be a co-sponsor of the bill.

More information on COPINH can be found at (Spanish) or More information on the Asian Pacific Environmental Organization can be found at

To get involved with School of the Americas Watch – Pittsburgh, please email

Josh Ellison is an intern for the School of the Americas Watch of SW PA at the Thomas Merton Center.


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