Honduran environmental leader and winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize Berta Caceres was shot and killed at her home in the town of La Esperanza. Caceres was killed by armed intruders on the morning of March 3, 2016. Mexican environmental activist Gustavo Castro Soto was also injured in the incident. Caceres is survived by her four children with ex-husband and co-leader, Salvador Zuniga.
Prior to her death, Caceres had been awarded precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as a result of the various threats that had been made against her. Under these measures, the Honduran government was required to protect her. However, on the day of her death, Caceres was not under any protection—the Honduran security minister claimed that she was not at the place which she had named as her home.
Berta Caceres, a Lenca woman, grew up during the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980s. Her mother, a midwife and social activist, took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, teaching her young children the value of standing up for disenfranchised people.
Caceres grew up to become a student activist and in 1993, she cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging, fight for their territorial rights and improve their livelihoods.
In addition to other previous successes, in April 2013, Caceres organized a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site. Using a carefully organized system of alerts to keep everyone in the loop, the Lenca people maintained a heavy but peaceful presence, rotating out friends and family members for weeks at a time. For well over a year, the blockade withstood multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarized security contractors and the Honduran armed forces.
Honduras’ violent climate is well known to many, but few understand that environmental and human rights activists are its victims. Tomas Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, discredited, detained, and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.
Against these odds, Caceres and the Lenca community’s efforts successfully kept construction equipment out of the proposed dam site. In late 2013, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA, publicly citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Tomas’ death. To date, construction on the project has effectively come to a halt.