Indigenous Leader Berta Cáceres Murdered in Honduras

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Berta Caceres stands at the Gualcarque River in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras where she, COPINH (the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) and the people of Rio Blanco have maintained a two year struggle to halt construction on the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric project, that poses grave threats to local environment, river and indigenous Lenca people from the region.

 

Source: teleSUR TV / The Dawn News / March 3, 2016. Unknown people entered her home in the early hours of Thursday and took her life.

 

The coordinator of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), Berta Cáceres, was murdered in the early hours of Thursday by unknown people.

The correspondent of teleSUR in Honduras, Gilda Silvestrucci, confirmed that the Honduran leader was murdered at 1am, local time, inside her home in the La Esperanza neighborhood, department of Intibucá, in the South-West part of the country.

Cáceres was the leader of the Lenca indigenous community and peasant movements, and a human rights activist.

According to local sources, the murderers waited for her to go to sleep to break in and kill her. In the incident, Cáceres’ brother was also hurt.

Last week, Cáceres had led a press conference in which she denounced that four leaders of her community had been murdered and others had been threatened.

 

Her activism

Cáceres had earned recognition of the people by being co-founder of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and had ran for Vice President in the national elections before the 2009 coup that ended the Constitutional order of the country.

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Since the coup, the government followed a strategy for “development” that deliberately began in the courts with transnational companies for the promotion of hydroelectric and open-pit mining projects.

 

Agua Zarca dam

One of these projects was the Agua Zarca dam.  

Residents of the areas surrounding that project went to Cáceres and the COPINH to take action to stop the building of the dam, that was beginning without approval of the affected communities. Cáceres, along with other members of the White River community, launched a campaign to stop the project.

Despite the overwhelming resistance of the community, the government went on with the building of the dam, and residents were forced to take action by blocking roads. The roadblocks were successful in stopping the project, but at a high cost.

Cáceres and other leaders of the community were target of threats by the State forces and by the company responsible of the project. Tomás García, leader of the community, was killed by gunshots in a pacific demonstration in 2013.

In response to the community’s opposition, the largest constructor of dams in the world, Sinohydro, withdrew from the project in 2013. One of the sponsors of the project was the International Finance Corporation, the private sector institution of the World Bank, which had stipulated a strong economic investment for construction in the Gualcarque River.

Berta Caceres in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras where she, COPINH (the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) and the people of Rio Blanco have maintained a two year struggle to halt construction on the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric project, that poses grave threats to local environment, river and indigenous Lenca people from the region. She gathered with members of COPINH and Rio Blanco during a meeting remembering community members killed during the two year struggle.
Berta Caceres in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras, where she gathered with members of COPINH and Rio Blanco during a meeting remembering community members killed during the two year struggle.

 

Violence in Honduras

The construction of the dam has not been resumed. However, there are other projects in Honduras plagued by violence.

The announcement that Cáceres had won the Goldman Prize, the highest recognition worldwide for environmentalists, coincided with the publication of a report by Global Witness, that declared Honduras the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists, in a time where she, her family and acquaintances were receiving threats.

Cáceres told The Guardian that she hoped that this award would bring more attention on environmental threats and social activists in Honduras.

“The Honduran people, along with international solidarity, can get out of this unjust situation, by promoting hope, rebellion and organizing for the protection of life”, Cáceres had said.

Caceres had told the BBC that approval of the project “would have meant displacement and would have prevented the community from developing their agricultural activities. Because they wanted to privatize not only the river but several kilometers around it”.

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Danger

According to a report by the NGO Global Witness; Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for defenders of environmental rights, along with Peru and Brazil.

According to the document, between 2002 and 2014 a total of 111 murders linked to environmental defenders were recorded.

Global Witness questioned that international leaders gather to discuss climate change; while environmentalists are killed with impunity and without media coverage.

 

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