Last night indigenous rights leader and social justice warrior Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home in Honduras. This follows weeks of mounting threats and years of violence and aggression targeting indigenous peoples, women, small farmers and environmental activists in Honduras and throughout Central America.
A Lenca woman, Berta led the resistance movement that has been blocking the construction of Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam for several years. Even in the face of imminent threats, the Lenca continue to demand the end of the Agua Zarca project which would privatize and pollute the Gualcarque River, invade the Lenca territory and violate the rights of the community.
Berta and other Lenca leaders have been the target of repression, criminalization and persecution as part of an ongoing offensive against indigenous peoples in an attempt to usurp their ancestral lands for the construction of hydropower dams, mines, mega tourism projects, and other businesses. In recent months, there has been an escalation of state repression against social movement leaders, including indigenous peoples’ organizations, peasants, environmentalists, and other dissenters who stand in the way of these projects.
Berta served as General Coordinator of Grassroots International’s ally organization, the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and received international acclaim for her courageous and engaged leadership, including winning the 2015 Oscar Romero Award, the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize and being a finalist for the 2014 Front Line Defenders Award. Below is a short excerpt from Berta’s acceptance speech at the Goldman Prize ceremony last year.
In our worldview, we are beings who come from the Earth, from the water, and from corn. The Lenca people are ancestral guardians of the rivers, in turn protected by the feminine spirit, who teach us that giving our lives in various ways for the protection of the rivers is giving our lives for the well-being of humanity and of this planet… Let us wake up! We’re out of time. WE must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction.
Our Mother Earth – militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated – demands that we take action.
Let us heed Berta’s call to action and ensure that her death is not in vain.
All of us at Grassroots International celebrate the courage and life of Berta Cáceres. We had the privilege and honor of knowing her, and were deeply touched not only by her dedication to the struggle for her people and for Mother Earth, but also by her amazing heart – she gave and shared love generously and took time to care for the people around her. Her death is a major loss for social movements not only in Honduras but around the world. And it is even more devastating because it is part of a broader trend of assassinations of environmental justice and human rights defenders in Honduras, including Tomás García of COPINH, Margarita Murillo of La Vía Campesina Honduras, and over a hundred other people killed in the nonviolent struggle for land, territory and resource rights since the 2009 military coup.
We join with our partners in Honduras and around the world to call for an immediate and thorough investigation into her murder, and demand the perpetrators are brought to justice. Those of us in the US bear a special responsibility to expose the role of our government in heavily militarizing Honduras, backing the 2009 military coup, and lending political support to the current Honduran administration that is often complicit in or responsible for human rights violations and repression. We rededicate ourselves to mobilizing solidarity and resources to continue to support the frontline communities in their courageous struggle for human rights and protection of sacred lands and earth. We will strive to do this work in a way that honors and shares the love and spirit of Berta and so many others who have given their lives in the struggle.
With heavy hearts, we join with the Lenca people of Honduras – and those who believe in justice worldwide – to say, Berta Cáceres, Presente!