The indigenous activist Berta Cáceres was killed in Honduras early Thursday in the city of Esperanza, located in the western department of Intibucá, where she lived. At least two armed men shot her in the middle of the night, evading an armed guard, now under investigation. Her brother was also injured. Cáceres, leader of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares and Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), had been taking extra precautions after facing threats because of her activities in defense of natural resources. She had predicted her own death, calling into question the responsibility of the state.
Last year, she received the Goldman Environmental Prize for her activism, the highest worldwide recognition for an environmentalist. During the award ceremony, she denounced the harassment she had received. “I am being followed,” she said. “I have received kidnap and death threats. Threats to my family. We have to face this.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had ordered the neoliberal government of Juan Orlando Hernandez to guarantee her safety.
Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmentalists. According to the NGO Global Witness, 111 were killed between 2002 and 2014. In 2014 alone, 88 ecologists were killed in Latin America, 40 percent of whom were representatives of native peoples. This figure is equivalent to three-fourths of the murders committed against environmentalists around the world. Indigenous people’s organized resistance against big hydroelectric and mining companies, which ravage the land and force the displacement of native populations, has achieved important victories — though they’ve paid dearly for them.
Cáceres, the COPINH and indigenous communities fighting for the defense of their ancestral territories stopped the Chinese multinational Sinohydro. The company decided to withdraw its participation in the construction of a dam on the Gualcarque River, a project that had also captured the International Finance Corporation, an institution of the World Bank. In addition to privatizing the river, the dam would have destroyed several miles of nearby agricultural activities.