[UPDATED 3/4/3016] Berta Caceres was assassinated today, murdered in her sleep, in her home in Honduras at about 1 a.m. Berta was coordinator and co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPIHN) and the 2015 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize. Her death is not the first: in 2015, Global Witness reported that “at least two people are being killed for taking a stand against environmental destruction” every single week:
“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.”
Honduras, Global Witness said last year, is the most dangerous country for environmentalists. In 2015, Caceres told Global Witness, “They follow me. They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me, they threaten my family. That is what we face.” The 2015 report said:
“The case of Berta Cáceres is emblematic of the systematic targeting of environmental defenders in Honduras. Since 2013, three of her colleagues have been killed for resisting the Agua Zarca hydro-dam on the Gualcarque River, which threatens to cut off a vital water source for hundreds of indigenous Lenca people. Fabricated criminal charges have been filed against her, and two of her children have left Honduras out of concerns for their safety.”
Now her name has been added to the long list of indigenous and environmental activists killed in Honduras.
In 2015, the Goldman Environmental Prize described Cáceres’s work and commitment:
“Honduras’ violent climate is well known to many, but few understand that environmental and human rights activists are its victims. Tomas Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, discredited, detained, and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.
“Against these odds, Cáceres and the Lenca community’s efforts successfully kept construction equipment out of the proposed dam site. In late 2013, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA, publicly citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Tomas’ death. Agua Zarca suffered another blow when the IFC withdrew its funding, citing concerns about human rights violations. To date, construction on the project has effectively come to a halt.
“What haven’t stopped are death threats to Cáceres. Her murder would not surprise her colleagues, who keep a eulogy—but hope to never have to use it.”
Years ago, when I visited Honduras and other Central American countries, I was moved by rallies and prayer meetings where the names of martyrs to the movement were read. The response after each name was ¡Presente! — you are present here with us, we are present to you and to each other in the struggle, en la lucha. And so, today, we remember Berta Cáceres, and say again, ¡Presente!
Photos above from Goldman Environmental Prize video.
UPDATED 3/4/2016: Among the many tributes to Berta Cáceres, and denunciations of the political structure in Honduras and, in particular, the 2009 coup that ousted President Mel Zelaya, is this reporting by Democracy Now, which includes interviews with Cáceres’ nephew, Silvio Carillo, and longtime friend Beverly Bell:
BEVERLY BELL: There’s no way to overstate the importance of Berta’s work. She was working very closely, actually, with the democratically elected President Mel Zelaya to work to, quote, “refound” democracy. And she was doing this in the same way that Berta did everything, which was through grassroots mobilization of workers, of women, of, significantly, indigenous people and campesinos, which is the population that was represented in the organization that she founded some 20 years ago. She was working for a wholly new form of governance in Honduras, not just a new government, but a new system whereby people had the say and the riches of the country went to benefit them instead of the tiny elite.
For background on the 2009 coup, which the United States government mildly criticized though failing to impose sanctions or join in strong Latin American condemnations, see Honduras Coup from News Day in 2009.