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Berta Cáceres, Honduran Indigenous Rights Leader, Murdered at Home

Cáceres was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for her courageous opposition to mining and other mega-development projects

We woke up to tragic news this morning. Honduran indigenous Lenca leader Berta Cáceres was shot dead in her home town early today, less than a year since she was awarded the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize in recognition of her courageous efforts to save her community and land from mining and other mega-development projects.

Her crime: The simple act of saying “No” to environmental destruction.

Berta CáceresPhoto courtesy of Goldman Environmental PrizeIn 2013, Berta Cáceres spearheaded a blockade in an area called Rio Blanco to prevent the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam on the Gualarque River.

Gunmen broke down the door of the house where Cáceres was staying in La Esperanza, western Honduras, around midnight and shot and killed her. Local reports say her brother was also injured in the attack.

Cáceres was the general coordinator of COPINH (the Civic Council of Popular Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), a group that has been campaigning for the land and decision-making rights of the indigenous Lenca people.

Huge portions of Honduras (some estimates go as high as 30 percent) were signed over to mining concessions after the 2009 coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya. At that time, the then 36-years-old Cáceres quickly mobilized COPINH to fight these projects being doled out to international investors.  In 2013, she helped wage a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder — Chinese state-owned Sinohydro — to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam project slated for construction on the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to the Lenca people.

The dam is currently under construction. Threats against Cáceres and her colleagues had escalated in recent weeks following a peaceful protest by her community against the dam that lead to a brief interruption of construction work.

During her visit to San Francisco to receive the Goldman Prize last year, Cáceres told the Journal: “The coup changed our lives. It really consolidated an agenda of domination and pillage, and it’s brought on greater repression and greater vulnerability … and an expansion of the impunity of transnational corporations.”

Last month, COPINH had issued an alert saying that community members were being threatened again and highlighting the fact that Cáceres was protected under the precautionary measures from the Inter-American commission for Human Rights. She was supposed to have been under police protection.

Cáceres shocking murder, exposes again, the terrible vulnerability of Indigenous activists in Honduras. Global Witness, a watchdog group that works to expose the economic drivers behind conflict, corruption and environmental destruction, reports that Honduras is currently the world’s most dangerous country per capita to be an environmental or land defender. Between 2010 and 2014, at least 101 people were killed in Honduras for opposing destructive agriculture, mining and dam projects, it reports.

Global Witness is calling on the Honduran government to launch an investigation into Cáceres’ murder and provide immediate protection for Cáceres’ family and colleagues. We second these requests.

Maureen Nandini Mitra, Editor, Earth Island Journal.Maureen Nandini Mitra photo
In addition to her work at the Journal, Maureen writes for several other magazines and online publications in the US and India. A journalism graduate from Columbia University, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Public Press, The New Internationalist, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, The Caravan and Down to Earth.

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