Indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home in La Esperanza, Intibuca, this morning. Preliminary accounts suggest someone broke into the house about 1 am this morning and killed her. Caceres, who is also known for her environmental rights work, was most recently working on protecting the rights of the Lenca people being displaced without due process by the Chinese construction company, SinoHydro, building the Agua Zarca dam in her home department of Intibuca for the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos, SA (DESA).
"They follow me; they threaten me with death, with kidnapping. They threaten my family. This is what we face" Caceres said.
She was one of the co-founders of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), the primary Indigenous rights group in Honduras. In 2015 she won the Goldman Environmental Prize given to people for " for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk." Her biography on the Goldman prize website says of her: "Berta Cáceres rallied the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam."
The dam project was owned by Desarrollos Energéticos, a Honduran company, and being constructed by SinoHydro, the state-owned Chinese construction company, and the German company Voith Hydro. Funding came from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and the Development Finance Company of the Netherlands, and the Central American Mezzanine Infrastructure Fund of EMP Global, a total of $24.4 million.
In 2006 she began
her work representing the Lenca community of Rio Blanco, who were being
forcibly displaced as part of the dam construction in violation of
their ILO 169 rights. Honduras is a signatory of ILO 169 but has
largely ignored its obligations under the treaty. Rio Blanco should
have been consulted, and its permission requested, to authorize the dam
project under ILO 169, but that never happened.
The current Honduran government militarized the dam project region in an attempt to break the Lenca blockade of the dam site, shot and killed peaceful protesters, and even went so far as to arrest Berta Cáceres on trumped up weapons charges, threatening her with imprisonment. The charges were later dismissed.
Her body was flown to the capital, Tegucigalpa, by the Honduran Air
Force where it was transferred to the morgue of the Forensic Medicine
unit of the Police. Outside the morgue, Lenca people have been building
a "mural" with flowers and colored sawdust (like the murals done for
Holy Week), this one depicting the Rio Gualcarque region she had
defended from the hydroelectric project.
Cáceres is survived by her four children, and her mother.