Indigenous Honduran leader Berta Cáceres (Lenca) was murdered in her home Wednesday night by two unknown assailants, according to various sources.
Cáceres was internationally known for winning the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her advocacy on behalf of the Lenca people, who have been battling against the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River, as well as her frequent opposition to the U.S.-sanctioned coup government and subsequent administrations of Honduras.
According to press reports, at least two individuals broke down the door of Cáceres home in La Esperanza, Itibuca and shot her to death late Wednesday evening. One of her brothers was also injured in the attack.
Cáceres was the Director of the National Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), which has been in the forefront of protests against the dam being constructed by the DESA Company of Honduras. Cáceres and other activists assert that the Agua Zarca project would cause great harm to the Lenca community known as Rio Blanco through displacement of the people and environmental damage to an area considered sacred by the Lenca.
In a press statement from 2013 Cáceres outlined the reasons for the protests.
“There is a displacement of the population that has traditionally lived on those lands, practically an eviction,” Cáceres said. “...DESA [of Honduras] and SINOHYDRO (a transnational Chinese hydroelectric project builder no longer involved in the project) have exerted brutal pressure against the communities, with maneuvers such as co-opting leaders and the offering of bribes, and on the other hand repression, systematic harassment, and the occupation of the territory by the army, the police and security guards and gang members.
“Because of these facts,” Cáceres continued, “it's important to fight against the Agua Zarca project, which is the beginning of the plunder and eviction through the Model City projects which is a laboratory for what is being executed in Honduras, within what is perversely known as the Transpacific Treaty.”
The conflict over the Agua Zarca Project has recently escalated again according to the activists. On February 25 COPINH issued a press release condemning the destruction of a Lenca community near the project where Honduran military and police forcibly evicted 50 Lenca families and destroyed their homes with backhoes and other heavy construction equipment.
Since 2009 Cáceres had received numerous threats to her life and to the lives of her family. Honduran authorities had also arrested her in 2013 for weapons charges for which she was acquitted in early 2014.
Upon her acquittal, Paola Limon, an attorney for Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) commented on the dangers facing Cáceres and other activists in Honduras. CEJIL attorneys were part of the legal team that represented Cáceres in her precautionary measures before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Limon stated that the measures were granted by the IACHR immediately following the Coup in 2009 and had been maintained since that time in order to protect her life, “given the dangerous context in which environmental and human rights defenders carry out their activities in Honduras.”
“In this sense,” Limon continued, “it is of crucial importance that the Honduran State has recognized (regarding the charge of illegal possession of a commercial weapon as a threat to the internal security of the State) not only her innocence, but also that defending the human rights of Indigenous Peoples is an activity protected by international treaties that Honduras has committed to comply with, specifically with regard to the defense and protection of their territories and the enjoyment of their culture.”
On Thursday various organizations posted condolences to the Cáceres family and Lenca community on social media. One of those organizations is the National Network of Human Rights Defenders in Honduras (NNHRDH).
“The assassination of our friend Berta Cáceres in her home, while she slept, puts at a higher risk the lives of human rights defenders, the indigenous populations who resist in their communities and members of the social and popular movement that we have built in this legitimate struggle,” according to the post.
As of press time Honduran Police had announced that they had opened an investigation into the murder but had not released any information regarding possible leads.