|Berta Cáceres on the banks of the Gualcarque River in the Rio Blanco region of Western Honduras. The river is a source of water, food, medicine and spiritual identity for the indigenous Lenca people/Courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize|
Berta Cáceres, the vocal and brave Honduran environmental and indigenous rights activist, was gunned down last week at her home in La Esperanza, Intibuc. Her murder has prompted a flood of tributes and an international outcry, as well as investigations supported by the United Nations and the FBI.
Cáceres, who is a member of the Lenca indigenous group, the largest in Honduras, was one of the leading organizers for indigenous land rights in Honduras. In 1993, she co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH. For years, the group faced death threats and repression as they stood up to mining and dam projects that threatened to destroy their community.
Last year, Cáceres, 44, won the Goldman Environmental Prize, a sort of Nobel for grassroots environmental activists, for her work opposing the Agua Zarcao dam, one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects.
Since the right-wing coup against Manuel Zelaya in 2009, activists have been persecuted by the Honduran government, making Honduras one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an activist or community organiser.
This was certainly true for Cáceres.
Police said the killings occurred during an attempted robbery, but the family said they had no doubt it was an assassination prompted by Cáceres’s high-profile campaigns against dams, illegal loggers and plantation owners.
“I have no doubt that she has been killed because of her struggle and that soldiers and people from the dam are responsible, I am sure of that. I hold the government responsible,” her 84-year-old mother said on radio Globo at 6.
Cáceres stood up to corporations and helped delay the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, which, if built, would destroy her community's land and the Gualcarque River in Honduras.
“She was a fearless environmental hero. She understood the risks that came with her work, but continued to lead her community with amazing strength and conviction,” said John Goldman, President of the Goldman Environmental Foundation.
“We mourn the loss of an inspirational leader, and will honor her life’s work by continuing to highlight the courageous work of Goldman Prize winners like Berta,” said Goldman. “She built an incredible community of grassroots activists in Honduras, who will carry on the campaign she fought and died for.”
I’ve been interviewing Goldman Environmental Prize winners for many years and, like Cáceres, they are truly amazing people. Most are ordinary men and women, full of energy and passion, who are totally committed and take great personal risks to protect the environment. The Prize amplifies their voices and affords them some protection, although sadly not enough in Cáceres’s case.
To support their call for justice in Honduras, you can donate to COPINH via their trusted partner, Rights Action (scroll to the bottom of the page). This fund will also support Cáceres’ family at this difficult time.