This Thursday morning, March 3rd 2016, was stained with blood at the hands of the murderers who took Berta Cáceres’ life. Berta was a Honduran Indigenous leader who has been deeply involved in the protection of Indigenous land rights in Honduras, well known for her activism leading a campaign against the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam in the Gualcarque River, a sacred site for the Lenca people. It was a result of her work that the largest contractor of this dam at the international level, Sinohydro, pulled out of the process.
After many years of organizing in the face of repeated death threats and the assasinations of her colleagues, Cáceres herself was killed at her home in La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras. The attackers entered into her home at approximately 1:00 AM Thursday morning, informed Tomas Membreño, member of Commission of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH) of which Berta was the Coordinator. Berta, a Lenca leader from Honduras, had spent many months in hiding, after receiving threats to her life over the years for her work accompanying movements that defended her community, in addition to suffering from political persecution, and multiple calls for her arrest. The international community had strongly condemned the threats to her life; Berta’s fight, together with COPINH and her community, was recognized with the highest recognition on an international scale for Environmental defenders with the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. Berta had applied for and received Precautionary Measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, meaning that the government of Honduras was obligated to provide police protection. However, there was no police detail protecting her on the night of her death, reported The Guardian.
UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Vicky Tauli Corpuz recently met with Berta in Honduras during a country visit. “I condemn this dastardly act and I urge the Honduras authorities to investigate this case and bring the perpetrators to justice. I condole and deeply sympathize with Berta’s family, relatives and community. Such impunity is totally unacceptable and the State has to do something about this,” she commented.
Berta held the role of Coordinator of Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH) and as a member of coordinating team of the National Platform of Social and Popular Movements of Honduras (PMSPH). She was a major contributor to Cultural Survival’s campaign work against the Patuca III Dam in La Moskitia in 2011, and had tirelessly documented the extensive human rights abuses experienced by her community and Indigenous Peoples across Honduras in order to bravely denounce these actions at the national and international level via reports to the United Nations. She was also active in leading protests against the 2009 US-backed coup d’etat against former president Manuel Zelaya, who has also condemned her murder: “The assasination of Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres removes all possibility of dialogue and the responsibility lies with current president Juan Hernandez,” said Zelaya in a statement this morning.
During protests against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, Cáceres demonstrated her strength and courage in stating “Our people come face to face here with dignity, capacity, resistance, intelligence and ancient strength.” Berta leaves behind her four children and husband Salvador Zuñiga, Executive Committee member of the Council of Central American Indigenous Community Radio network.
“When a bright star of hope and power goes out, we grieve deeply because we know our pain and loss is much larger than ourselves and timeless over generations in our struggle. Berta Cáceres devoted her life to her people, to Indigenous people worldwide, and to life itself. Her murder is a criminal act of violence, is senseless, and a deliberate attack on what Berta stood for — the rights of Indigenous Peoples. It should be condemned at every level from the state to the international and the perpetrators brought to justice,” said Suzanne Benally, Executive Director of Cultural Survival
Cultural Survival sends our deepest condolences to her family, colleagues, and the entire Lenca community. Rest in power, Berta.
Editor’s Note: Cáceres’s murder has triggered violent clashes in Honduras over the government’s failure to protect her. Read more in The Guardian.