Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres murdered, family says

March 3, 2016

Updated at 7:30 p.m.

TEGUCIGALPA — Honduran indigenous activist Berta Cáceres, an award-winning environmentalist, was killed in her home Thursday, her family said, labeling her death an assassination.

Cáceres’ mother, Berta Flores, said police had indicated her daughter was killed in a robbery, “but we all know it was because of her struggle.”

The 43-year-old activist, who had received death threats for her work, was shot dead in the early hours of Thursday at her home in the western town of La Esperanza, Flores told TV network Globo.

Cáceres won the 2015 Goldman Prize, considered the world’s top award for grass-roots environmental activism, for leading the indigenous Lenca people in a struggle against a massive hydroelectric dam project that would flood large areas of native lands and cut off water supplies to hundreds.

In awarding her the prize, the organization commended her for carrying on her campaign despite the threats, writing: “Her murder would not surprise her colleagues, who keep a eulogy — but hope to never have to use it. Despite these risks, she maintains a public presence in order to continue her work.”

Recommended: Honduran indigenous leader wins prestigious environmental prize

President Juan Orlando Hernandez called the killing “a crime against Honduras” and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice, while the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, condemned the crime as “horrific.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson tweeted, “Deeply disturbed by murder of #BertaCáceres in #Honduras– thorough, professional investigation is vital.”

Honduras, which has seen an explosion of gang violence in recent years, has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Security Minister Julián Pacheco said police arrested one person, a security guard at the complex where Cáceres lived, and that another person was wounded, but did not give further details on the investigation.

He said police had measures in place to protect Cáceres, who recently won a ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granting her special security measures.

Police formerly provided her an around-the-clock guard, but switched to an occasional security detail at the activist’s own request, he added.

‘Deficient’ security

But the Center for Justice and International Law, a rights group, denied Cáceres had turned down bodyguards and accused the government of providing her “deficient” security.

The security minister said Cáceres had spent the night away from the home that was registered with the authorities. Fellow activists said she had moved to a safe house fearing for her life.

Labor leader Carlos Reyes joined Cáceres’ mother in insisting that she was not just another victim of violent crime.

Flores said her daughter had recently had a “very big altercation” with soldiers and representatives of a hydroelectric company during a visit to the Gualcarque river, where the company is at work on a dam project.

Cáceres co-founded the Civic Council of Indigenous and People’s Organizations (Copinh) in 1993 with her then-husband Salvador Zúñiga, gaining fame for her fearless fight against environmental destruction by hydroelectric and mining companies.

A diminutive woman with a round face, glowing eyes and bursts of curly black hair, she was active in a range of political and social causes.

But she was best known for her battle to save the Gualcarque river, which earned her the Goldman Prize last year — dubbed by some the “Green Nobel.”

On accepting the prize, Cáceres linked her environmentalism to her indigenous roots.

“In our cosmic vision we are beings born of the Earth, the water and the maize plant. We are the ancestral custodians of the rivers,” she said.

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