Honduran activist gunned down in her home after protesting dam

Berta Cáceres (Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize)

Honduran indigenous and environmental activist Berta Cáceres was killed in her home last night by two gunman days after receiving death threats for her protests against an internationally financed dam project on the River Gualcarque, according to the Fund for Global Human Rights.

“It is imperative that the government of Honduras thoroughly and immediately investigate Berta’s murder, and bring those responsible to justice,” said Ana Paula Hernandez, Fund for Global Human Rights program officer for Latin America, in a statement. “This tragedy follows a pattern that has made Honduras one of the most dangerous places in the world for environmental justice and land rights activists.”

Humanosphere met with Cáceres last fall, when she and another Honduran activist Miriam Miranda visited Seattle. Both spoke with a number of local organizations about their many decades of championing land rights, women’s rights and the rights of indigenous peoples in general. Tom Paulson interviewed Hernandez for our podcast in November about the the Fund for Global Human Rights, which supports Cáceres and Miranda, to talk about the work they are doing on behalf of poor communities.

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The fight for human rights is particularly dangerous for activists in Honduras where some in power see the demands of indigenous people as a direct threat to corporate or political interests.

According to the Guardian, police told local media the killings occurred during an attempted robbery, but the family said they had no doubt it was an assassination prompted by Cáceres’s high-profile campaigns against dams, illegal loggers and plantation owners.

“I have no doubt that she has been killed because of her struggle and that soldiers and people from the dam are responsible, I am sure of that. I hold the government responsible,” her 84-year-old mother said on radio Globo at 6.

Members of Cáceres’ organization escorted the body as it left the house on the way to the morgue in the provincial capital, the Guardian reported. About a hundred of them also marched from the public prosecutor’s office to the police station, where they demanded an independent international investigation.

Cáceres, a joyful woman who laughed easily, described to Seattle audiences her work to as an activist in a rural community – work she persisted in doing despite receiving repeated death threats against her and family members. Over the years, Cáceres said she had seen many of her colleagues and supporters killed. She told of her brother getting arrested and tortured, eventually being released with no charges filed. It was a message to her, she believed, aimed at getting her to stop fighting for farmer land rights.

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As a recipient of several high-profile awards honoring her courage and activism, Cáceres acknowledged while in Seattle that such media and public recognition left her with deeply mixed feelings. With a warm smile that somehow didn’t fit her startlingly blunt assessment, Cáceres said last fall that her increased public visibility also raised the odds of her being attacked or killed back home.

“But it is important that people know what is happening to us,” Cáceres said at the time. “It is worth the risk if it prompts more Americans to help our cause.”

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