Murder of Honduran environmental activist sparks outrage

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jorge Cabrera, Reuters

By David Agren

outspoken environmental activist in Honduras was murdered in her own home,
sparking outrage and offering another example of the impunity and violence in
the Central American country.

Berta Caceres, who won the 2015 Goldman
Environmental Prize — an award considered the Nobel for ecological actions —
was murdered at around 1 a.m. March 3 in what police initially called an
attempted robbery, but family members denounced as politically motivated
murder, according to media reports.

“A strong, dangerous
message was sent today,” said Mike Allison, an expert in Central American
politics at the Jesuit-run University of Scranton, Pennsylvania. “It’s
outrageous that after several years of international scrutiny and, at times,
condemnation, that some people had no qualms ordering her murder.”

A Lenca indigenous leader,
Caceres attracted international attention for her opposition to a hydroelectric
dam on the Gualcarque River in western Honduras, where construction crews
arrived unannounced almost a decade ago. A court order banned her from the area
and she endured death threats, but successfully led protests that thwarted the

“She was a woman committed
to fighting for the protection of the environment and indigenous people’s
territories and the common struggle,” said Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno,
director of Radio Progreso and the Jesuit-run Team for Reflection, Research and

“This has been what she was
known for,” since founding the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras
in 1993, Father Moreno added. “It’s been 25 years of perpetual struggle. …
She was the woman with the most recognition in all of Honduras” and
well-known abroad.

Caceres participated in the 2014
World Meeting of Popular Movements at the Vatican but was not considered close
with the Honduran church hierarchy.

Her actions had angered elites
in Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere and home to the
highest homicide rate in the world. Father Moreno said she protested against
concessions granted to foreign mining companies and was perhaps the best-known
critic of a concept known as “model cities,” which creates areas within
Honduras that have laws and institutions different from the rest of the country,
in an effort to attract international investment.

Mostly, though, she protested
against proposed mines and hydroelectric projects, which were planned by
foreign firms — and, her supporters alleged, she dealt with threats from
landowners and the authorities.

“We’re heartbroken,”
said Father Moreno, who considered Caceres a close friend. “She was
constantly under threat.”

The murder brought international
condemnation and calls for investigation.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez
condemned the killing and promised a thorough investigation.

“This act causes mourning
for all of us,” he said via Twitter.

Police initially attributed
Caceres’ death to robbery, but later said she was shot four times, according to
media reports.

The crime again confirms the
problem of corruption and impunity in Honduras, where mass protests filled the
streets in 2015 after it was discovered money embezzled out of the state social
security system ended up in Hernandez’s successful presidential campaign.

An international commission
against impunity has been created in Honduras, following the example of
neighboring Guatemala, where the president and vice president were impeached on
corruption charges. Observers say it may not be as easy in Honduras.

“(The commission) and the
international community should have no illusions about the environment into
which they are operating,” Allison said.

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