On March 3, 2016, Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores—a Honduran environmental activist, indigenous leader of the Lenca people, and cofounder and coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH)—was assassinated. Cáceres was an internationally-known leader in the opposition to the development of hydroelectric dams and corporate mining in Hondruas. In 2015 she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her work. As Beverly Bell reports, the Honduran government has sought to frame Sotero Echeverria and two additional COPINH leaders for Cáceres’ murder.
Describing a backdrop of long-term US “meddling” in Honduras, Caceres spoken out publicly in 2014 against Hillary Clinton’s role as US Secretary of State in the 2009 coup that ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and opened what the Goldman Prize website described as the “explosive growth in environmentally destructive megaprojects that would displace indigenous communities.”
However the daily threats, kidnapping attempts, and charges of sedition faced by Cáceres predated her comments on Hillary Clinton. In her decade-long battle to stop the Agua Zarca Dam—a project planned for the Gualcarque River, which is considered sacred by the indigenous Lenca people—Cáceres took on an international group of corporations and investors including the Honduran company DESA (Dessarollos Energeticos SA), the World Bank, and the largest hydropower company in the world, Sinohyrdro, which the Chinese government owns. As Cáceres’ daughter, Bertha Zúniga Cáceres, told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, “We knew that there were big interests that wanted to bring an end to her life and the struggle of the organization, because the struggle was not only hers, it was the struggle of an entire people and also a struggle of the Honduran social movement.”
Who killed Cáceres’ remains unknown, but her two daughters recently traveled to the United States in order to ask for the US government to investigate their mother’s assassination.
On August 30th, 2015 DESA had withdrawn construction equipment from Gualcarque River. In the immediate aftermath of Cáceres’ murder, the Dutch development bank FMO and the Finnish development bank Finnfund said they would suspend their funding of the Agua Zarca Dam. However, as Bell notes, if Hondura’s right-wing party wins in the upcoming November 2016 elections, DESA is likely to “move forward with the dam and to crack down even more viciously against indigenous peoples who refuse to submit.”
As Democracy Now! reported after Cáceres’ murder, “hundreds of people, most of them women, gathered outside the Honduran Mission to the United Nations chanting ‘Berta no se murió; se multiplicó—Berta didn’t die; she multiplied.’”
Several days later, Democracy Now! reported, a second COPINH leader, Nelson García, was shot to death after returning home from helping indigenous people displaced by Honduran security forces in a mass eviction.
Beverly Bell, “Why Was Berta Caceres Assassinated?”, Other Worlds, March 16, 2106, http://otherworldsarepossible.org/why-was-berta-caceres-assassinated.
Amy Goodman, “Slain Activist Berta Cáceres’ Daughter: US Military Aid Has Fueled Repression and Violence in Honduras,” Democracy Now!, March 18, 2016, http://www.democracynow.org/2016/3/18/slain_activist_berta_caceras_daughter_.
Student Researchers: Claudia Serrano and Raul Torres (College of Marin)
Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)