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Berta Cáceres 1971 - 2016

The protectress of the river, environmental activist and leader of the Indigenous peoples of Honduras

Berta Cáceres

Berta Cáceres

Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores was a Honduran activist who fought for the protection of the land and the rights of the Lenca people. In 1993, when she was still a student, she co-founded the Consejo Civico de Organizaciones indigenas Populares (Council of the People’s Indigenous Organizations or COPINH) with which, since 2013, she has organized several campaigns against the joint venture Agua Zarca, formed by the Chinese company Sinohydro, the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation and the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos, S.A.(DESA) – which planned to build some hydroelectric dams along the river Gualcarque – a worship place for the Lenca community. Cáceres was threatened by the local police more than once, although the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights included her in the list of the people at life risk after the coup in Honduras of 2009. In April 2013, Berta organized a roadblock to prevent DESA from accessing the dam site. Lining all up, the Lenca people have kept an important and yet peaceful presence. For over one year, the block has resisted numerous attempts of eviction and violent attacks from the security militias and the Honduran armed forces.

Tomas García, a community leader of Rio Blanco, was shot dead after a peaceful protest at the dam offices. Other activists were assaulted with machetes, defamed, detained and tortured. The efforts of Cáceres and the Lenca community have been successful at keeping the dam equipment far from the site. At the end of 2013, Sinohydro thus rescinded the deal with DESA, publicly mentioning the resistance and indignation of the community following Tomas’ death. Agua Zarca was dealt another blow when IFC revoked the funding, mentioning human rights concerns. To date, the construction of the project has actually stopped.

The death threats against Cáceres have continued until 3 March 2016, when she was murdered by armed men in her home in La Esperanza, in Honduras. Her death, followed by the murder of her colleague Nelson García, a member of the COPINH, only 12 days later, has sparked an international outrage. On the days that followed Berta’s death, several organizations, including Amnesty and OAS, and Cáceres’ daughter, have mobilized to report the events and urge the Honduran authorities to extend the investigation until the arrest of the guilty. Thus the government arrested nine men including the head of DESA for the environmental and social issues – although the company contents it was targeted by mistake by the prosecutors because of the pressure of the international human rights groups, the media and Copinh – a former employee of the security company enrolled by DESA, the army commander and a retired captain. A spokesman of the Prosecutor’s Office told the Guardian: "We are confident in the evidence against the 9 defendants. The investigation to find the remaining guilty goes on, but the case has practically been solved.” Berta was awarded many different prizes. The most important of which was the Goldman Environmental Prize she obtained in 2015, one year before her death

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