Berta Cáceres – indigenous, environmental, and human rights defender and fierce feminist who was assassinated in Honduras on March 3, 2016 – was, among so many other things, a mother in resistance. She inherited this from her mother, who was an inspiration to her, and she passed this down to her own daughters and son.
Berta’s mother, Austra Bertha Flores Lopez, worked as a midwife and served as mayor of their town and then governor of their state. She taught her daughter about fighting for justice from the time she was a child. During the period of intense violence of the 1980s, Austra took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, showing her children what real solidarity looks like.
As a young person, Berta got involved in social justice work and co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). She was key in organizing Lenca communities to defend their land from being taken over by developers for industrial mega projects. One of these major struggles has been against the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and their Agua Zarca Dam project. If built, the Agua Zarca dam would cut off the access of the Lenca people to the Gualcarque River, a river they consider sacred.
In 2013 Berta led the local Lenca communities in organizing a blockade to stop construction vehicles from entering or exiting the Agua Zarca site. This blockade was made up of groups of families who would take shifts night and day to peacefully block the road. The blockade lasted for over a year and resulted in withdrawal of Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer (based in China), from the project.
Berta’s assassination has resulted in international outcry for justice in solidarity with Berta’s family, COPINH, and international social movements. Berta received countless death threats for her work defending the Lenca people and Mother Earth, threats that came from DESA employees, private security forces and hired thugs.
The Honduran authorities have been anything but helpful in the investigation into her murder. They held her friend Gustavo Castro, sole witness to her assassination and also shot twice during the attack, refusing to allow him to return to Mexico for over a month. Also, despite calls from Berta’s family and international pressure, the Honduran government has not allowed the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to conduct an independent investigation into her death. Additionally, Honduran authorities have not communicated directly with Berta’s family, instead leaving them to receive updates about the investigation from the evening news with the rest of the public.
On May 2 – one month after Berta’s murder – four people were arrested as suspects who are associated with the Honduran military, DESA, and hired gangs. While these arrests are good steps forward, Berta’s family has said that there needs to be accountability at the highest levels of Honduran government, and that not only those who carried out the assassination but the authors as well must be held accountable.
In an open letter written by Austra Bertha Flores Lopez in the wake of her daughter’s assassination she says,
I have painstakingly served my people as a midwife, a mayor, a governor and a congresswoman, roles which allowed me to push for the approval of ILO Convention 169 [establishing the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)], for the defense of women, of children and of human rights in general. At 83 years of age this crime has hit me hard and I am only able to stay strong thanks to the steadfast solidarity that I have received from you. I want to tell you that I hope not to leave this world before achieving justice for my daughter Bertita, who has given her life for our mother earth, for the rights of indigenous and black peoples, for women and for the rivers.
Grassroots International joins with Berta’s family, COPINH, the US chapter of the World March of Women and many other allies and advocates worldwide to demand Justice for Berta. We call on the US State Department to stop supporting Honduran security forces, for the Honduran government to allow for an independent investigation into the death of Berta to be conducted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and to put an end once and for all to the Agua Zarca project.
On May 10 (Mother’s Day in many parts of Latin America) the US chapter of the World March of Women will be hosting an action in front of the Honduran Consulate in New York City to demand Justice for Berta. If you are in NYC you can join us for this event. If you are in other places, join us in demanding Justice for Berta by participating in our e-action and signing the World March of Women US chapter / Grassroots Global Justice petition to the US State Department.
This Mother’s Day let us honor the life and work of Berta Cáceres and all mothers in resistance!