The world mourns the loss of Berta Cáceres, an Indigenous woman who peacefully yet persistently resisted the destruction of waterways in Honduras for mining projects.
Berta Cáceres, a hugely influential environmental activist, Indigenous leader, and winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was murdered in her hometown of La Esperanza, Honduras, on March 3. She would have turned 46 the next day. It is a tragic ending to the life of this courageous woman who risked everything to protect her beloved homeland from desecration.
Cáceres was the co-founder and general coordinator of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). The group, which was created in 1993, has faced repression, threats, and violence for many years as it fought against the widespread environmental damage that is ongoing in Honduras.A military coup in 2009, led by graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, has resulted in explosive growth in megaprojects that are disruptive to Indigenous people. Democracy Now reports:
“Almost 30 percent of the country’s land was earmarked for mining concessions, creating a demand for cheap energy to power future mining operations. To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects around the country, privatizing rivers, land, and uprooting communities.”
Cáceres and her fellow Lenca people resisted peacefully yet persistently. They waged a successful grassroots campaign that resulted in the world’s biggest dam builder pulling out of a plan to build on the Rio Blanco, which would have been terribly destructive for Indigenous communities.
Unfortunately, as Cáceres’ visibility increased, she became a target for the government – so much so that her colleagues maintained a eulogy on her behalf, should the worst come to pass.
Sadly, it did on Thursday, March 3, when she was shot at home in what local police called a robbery. Cáceres’ mother, however, says it was really “because of her struggle.” It is not difficult to believe that Cáceres was targeted, since Honduras is notorious for being the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists. Between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmental campaigners have been killed in the country.
COPINH is calling her death an assassination. The group wrote:
“In the last few weeks, violence and repression towards Berta, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated. In Rio Blanco on February 20th, Berta, COPINH, and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats and repression as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally-financed Honduran company DESA. As a result of COPINH’s work supporting the Rio Blanco struggle, Berta had received countless threats against her life and was granted precautionary measures by the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights.”
The assassins may have killed her body, but the spirit of Berta Cáceres will live on in her legacy and in the inspiration she provides to so many other people. The fact that she received the world’s most highly respected environmental prize last year, only to be killed this year, is a startling reminder of the real-life risks many environmental activists face on a daily basis, particularly in Honduras.
Journalist Melissa Cardoza said prophetically in a film about Cáceres:
"They can attack her. They can even kill her. But her life transcends this moment in time."
Learn more about Cáceres’ work and incredible leadership by watching this beautiful video, created to honor her winning the Goldman Environmental Prize last year.