An indigenous activist in Honduras who was the recent recipient of a prestigious international environmental prize for her advocacy against a dam project was assassinated on Thursday morning.
Gunmen allegedly broke down the door at the residence where Berta Caceres was staying in La Esperanza, her hometown, and killed her immediately. She would have turned 46 tomorrow.
According to La Prensa of Honduras, Caceres was working to stop a company from building a hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque river, which the Rio Blanco community feared would fundamentally change their way of life.
The official report is that she was “killed during a robbery” however many around her, including her mother, has said she was killed “because of her struggle.”
Caceres had faced threats for her environmental activism throughout her life, so much in fact, that the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights had called on the government of Honduras to provide her with protection.
She was not under any protective detail at the time of her death, says Julian Pacheco Tinoco, the Honduran security minister.
According to her brother, Gustavo Caceres, her death could have been avoided.
“The police were responsible for providing security for my sister here in the city,” he said. “She wasn’t hiding.”
Carceres was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize after leading a peaceful campaign to stop one of the world’s largest dam builders from pursuing the Agua Zarca Dam, which would have cut thousands of ethnic Lenca people from basic necessities.
Her organization, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), had long warned against the threats of violence and repression that its advocates routinely faced:
“In the last few weeks, violence and repression towards Berta, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated. In Rio Blanco on February 20th, Berta, COPINH, and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats and repression as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally-financed Honduran company DESA. As a result of COPINH’s work supporting the Rio Blanco struggle, Berta had received countless threats against her life and was granted precautionary measures by the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights. On February 25th, another Lenca community supported by COPINH in Guise, Intibuca was violently evicted and destroyed.”
We are devastated to hear of Berta Cáceres' assassination today. Our thoughts are with her family and partners at @COPINHHONDURAS.
— Goldman Prize (@goldmanprize) March 3, 2016
“They were waiting for the chance to get to her,” said her nephew Silvio Carrillo, “They were just waiting and she knew it was gonna happen. We all knew but we didn’t dissuade her because we belive in this too.”
Carrillo said he doesn’t expect justice. He believes Honduras is far too corrupt for that.