UN ANO SIN JUSTICIA: Berta Cáceres and dangers facing the activists who now take up the torch.

Today marks one year since Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores was assassinated in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. Standing up to the Honduran government and multinational corporations to fight for indigenous and environmental rights made the activist — who was known by the masses simply as ‘Berta’ — a vulnerable target in one of the most violent countries in the world. According to her brother, Berta had been the target of “thousands of threats” on her life that intensified in the months leading up to her assassination, particularly because of her opposition to the Agua Zarca dam project. Berta herself was acutely aware of the risks she faced and in many ways her murder was a foreseen crime. But the assassination of such a high-profile activist still deeply shocked the activist community, both in Honduras and around the world.

From a vigil for Berta Cáceres on the 5th April 2016, organised by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Photo Credit: Daniel Cima from the IACHR, from Flickr.

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It is hard to summarise Berta’s work, because she fought in so many ways: she was a leading member of the Lenca indigenous group, a women’s rights advocate, a social activist against the Honduran government, an environmentalist, the founder and general coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and an emblematic figure of ‘la lucha’ [‘the struggle’] against the human rights challenges that Latin America faces. In her  biggest campaign, Berta organised with affected indigenous communities and coordinated with international human rights bodies to protest the Agua Zarca Dam project. Despite a powerful and violent opposition, by late 2013 the project had effectively been stopped; and in 2015 Berta was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for South and Central America for her work in this campaign, and her long dedication to environmental activism.

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Berta paid the ultimate price for her beliefs, and her assassination put a spotlight on the risks that environmental activists in the region face every day. In a recent interview, Miriam Miranda —a Honduran activist from the Afro-indigenous Garifuna community — stated that Berta’s death sent a clear message to activists in Honduras, and Latin America in general: that they “are more vulnerable now than ever”. The news from the region reflects this. Just days after Berta’s assassination, another member of COPINH, Nelson García was murdered and a few months later, fellow Goldman Prize winner Isidro Baldenegro López, who organised against illegal logging in Mexico, was shot dead. In the first months of this year alone the IACHR has received 14 reports of Latin American human rights defenders being murdered for their activism and those who remain live and work under a constant barrage of threats. In this daunting environment of threats and violence, it’s hard to believe that anyone would still have the courage to fight against governments and companies that endanger human rights in Latin America. But, as we can see from those who are commemorating this solemn anniversary under the banner “¡Berta Vive!¡COPINH sigue!” [“Berta lives! COPINH carries on!”], there is no giving up.

Calle 13 — Latinoamérica

What can we do?

  • Sign this Amnesty petition, demanding that the Honduran government to bring those responsible for the murders of Berta Cáceres and Nelson García to justice
  • Go to COPINH’s English or Spanish websites to follow their amazing work
  • Donate to Front Line Defenders who do important work supporting and raising awareness for activists who are under threat, or you can send a message of solidarity to activists like Miriam Miranda Chamorro

Have a look at this page (use a bit of google translate to understand it…) and take part in the global twitter storm (or ‘tuitazo’, in Spanish) that human rights groups have organised for the 2nd March.

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