March 3, 2016–Berta Cáceres, Environmental Activist
In casting about for a woman to write about today, the image of Berta Cáceres scrolled by on my Facebook feed above this headline: Honduran Indigenous Leader Berta Cáceres Assassinated.
My goal with these profiles is to learn more about the women who are shaping our world. Because I had never heard of Cáceres, I clicked on the story. Here’s what I found: a courageous woman who was fighting for her people and her land. She must have been good at it and she must have been making a difference–they killed her because of it.
Last night in her own home, two armed men entered and murdered her.
I’m a human rights fighter, and I won’t give up. –Berta Cáceres
Berta Cáceres, a Lenca woman, is one of the leading environmental organizers for indigenous land rights in Honduras. In 1993 she co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). The group has faced a series of threats and repression ever since.
According to Global Witness, Honduras is the most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists. Between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmental workers and activists were killed in the country. Honduran human rights organizations report there have been over 10,000 human rights violations by state security forces that have gone unpunished.
In 2015, Caceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s leading environmental award. She waged a grassroots battle against the world’s largest dam builder and got them to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam. Violence around the dam and her community has escalated in recent weeks.
She had received countless threats against her life. In a remembrance of 2013 interview, Nina Lakhani published this today in The Guardian. She describes her meeting with Cáceres: Her house was a collection of small rooms set around a courtyard of flowering trees, and in the end we spoke for more than an hour in a shady spot. Surrounded by pine-covered mountains it felt very peaceful, but twice she stopped mid-sentence as army patrols drove past. “They’re always watching me,” she said
Cáceres spoke quietly and steadily as she described the gruesome threats of sexual violence and murder that she and her family had received over the previous years. At that time, three of her four daughters were in exile, but she was determined to stay and keep fighting.
“I cannot freely walk on my territory or swim in the sacred river and I am separated from my children because of the threats. I cannot live in peace, I am always thinking about being killed or kidnapped. But I refuse to go into exile. I am a human rights fighter and I will not give up this fight,” she told me.