Berta Cáceres

World renowed environmental and indigenous rights activist

Cáceres, Berta.jpg

"Berta Flores (1972 - 2016) was a Honduran environmental activist, indigenous leader of her people, and co-founder and coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). She won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, for "a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam" at the Río Gualcarque.

 

She was assassinated in her home by armed intruders, after years of threats against her life. A former soldier with the US-trained special forces units of the Honduran military asserted that Caceres' name was on their hitlist months before her assassination. As of February 2017 three of the eight arrested people were linked to the US-trained elite military troops of which two had been trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA the former School of the Americas (SOA), renamed WHINSEC, linked to thousands of murders and human right violations by its graduates in Latin America. In November 2017, a team of international legal experts released a report finding "willful negligence by financial institutions" as for example the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), the Netherlands Development Finance Institution (FMO) and the Finnfund, who pursued a strategy with shareholders, executives, managers,and employees of DESA, private security companies working for DESA, public officials and State security agencies "to control, neutralize and eliminate any opposition".

 

Twelve environmental activists were killed in Honduras in 2014, according to research by Global Witness, which makes it the most dangerous country in the world, relative to its size, for activists protecting forests and rivers. Her murder was followed by two more of activists within the same month.

 

In 1993, as a student activist, Cáceres co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), an organization to support indigenous people's rights in Honduras. She led campaigns on a wide variety of issues, including protesting illegal logging, plantation owners, and the presence of US military bases on Lenca land. She supported feminism, LGBT rights, as well as wider social and indigenous issues.

 

In 2006, a group of indigenous Lenca people from Río Blanco asked Cáceres to investigate the recent arrival of construction equipment in their area. Cáceres duly investigated and informed the community that a joint venture project between Chinese company Sinohydro, the World Bank's International Finance Corporation, and Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos, S.A. (also known as DESA, see Empresa Nacional de Energía Eléctrica) had plans to construct a series of four hydroelectric dams on the Gualcarque River.

 

The developers had breached international law by failing to consult with the local people on the project. The Lenca were concerned that the dams would compromise their access to water, food and materials for medicine, and therefore threaten their traditional way of life. Cáceres worked together with the community to mount a protest campaign. She organized legal actions and community meetings against the project, and took the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

 

From 2013, Cáceres led COPINH and the local community in a year-long protest at the construction site to prevent the companies from accessing the land. Security officers regularly removed protesters from the site. On 15 July 2013, the Honduran military opened fire on the protesters, killing one member of COPINH and injuring three others. The community regularly complained of threats and harassment from the company employees, security guards, and the military. In May 2014, members of COPINH were attacked in two separate incidents that resulted in two members dead and three seriously injured.

 

In late 2013, both Sinohydro and the International Finance Corporation withdrew from the project because of COPINH's protests. Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA) continued, however, moving the construction site to another location to avoid the blockade. Other local business leaders supported the project. Officials filed criminal charges against Cáceres and two other indigenous leaders for "usurpation, coercion and continued damages" against DESA for their roles in the protest, which was alleged to have incited others to cause damages to the company. In response to the charges, Amnesty International stated that, if the activists were imprisoned, Amnesty International would consider them prisoners of conscience. Dozens of regional and international organizations called upon the Honduran government to stop criminalizing the defense of human rights and to investigate threats against human rights defenders.

On 20 February 2016, more than 100 protesters were detained by security while protesting, and threats against their organisation began to increase.

 

Cáceres singled out Hillary Clinton for her involvement in the Honduran coup:

 

"The return of the president, Mel Zelaya, became a secondary issue. There were going to be elections in Honduras. And here, she, Clinton, recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency. There were going to be elections. And the international community—officials, the government, the grand majority—accepted this, even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity, not only in Honduras but in the rest of the continent. And we’ve been witnesses to this."

 

Clinton claimed that her method of handling the situation was better for the Honduran people.

 

  • In 2012 Cáceres was awarded the Shalom Award by the Society for Justice and Peace at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in 2012.
  • She was nominated as a finalist for the 2014 Front Line Defenders Prize.
  • In 2015 she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize.
  • In April 2015, the international human rights organization Global Witness highlighted Cáceres' case as emblematic of the severe risks environmental activists face in Honduras, which had the highest number of killings of environmental and land defenders per capita in the world." (1)

From Wikipedia