For decades, indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres put her life at risk to defend the forests and rivers of the indigenous Lenca peoples in Intibucá, Honduras. She led a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of a major hydroelectric project on indigenous land—activism that helped protect her community, but that led to constant threats of violence and death. Last year, when Berta was honored with the Goldman Environmental Prize, I wrote that the best thing about her receiving the award “is that it means she is still alive.”
Last night, Berta was murdered in her home in Intibucá, Honduras.
Her death is a devastating blow. Berta knew for a number of years now that she would probably be killed. Many of the people in her organization, including a number of her relatives, have been killed in these last 5 or 10 years. She was given many offers to help her leave the country and her territories. She was consistent to the end.
In this video, David Kaimowitz reflects on the life and tragic death of Berta Cáceres.
Berta grew up in one of the poorest regions of Honduras, in a very small community in an isolated part of a small country. She grew up in a traditional family and might have led a traditional life—until saw mills came into the region and wanted to cut down her community’s pine forests, and the construction of a hydroelectric dam threatened to block people’s ability to fish in the rivers and access their territory. She became an activist, and a force for change.
Berta had an incredible capacity to understand that people need to have rights, no matter what sort of people they are, no matter where they live. Though she grew up in a somewhat isolated and remote area, Berta had an incredible capacity to relate to women all over the world, and understand the problems they face. From the very beginning, she understood the importance of the LGBT struggle, because she saw that lesbians and gay people were being discriminated against and oppressed the same way her people were.
We honor her memory and sacrifice by continuing to stand beside the courageous leaders who are risking their lives to protect the rights and resources of indigenous people the world over.
Watch Berta Cáceres’s acceptance speech at the 2015 Goldman Prize Ceremony (In Spanish with English subtitles):