Activists in Central America Fear for Their Lives in Wake of Assassinations

In an undated photo released by the Goldman Environmental Prize, Berta Caceres, an indigenous activist in Honduras. Caceres, who won a prestigious international environmental prize for fighting a dam project despite continued threats, was assassinated on March 3, 2016, in her hometown by gunmen, officials said. (Goldman Environmental Prize via The New York Times)Indigenous activist Berta Cáceres, who won a prestigious international environmental prize for fighting a dam project despite continued threats, was assassinated on March 3, 2016, in her hometown in Honduras. (Goldman Environmental Prize via The New York Times)

Early in the morning of March 3, gunmen entered the house of environmental activist Berta Cáceres in La Esperanza, Honduras, and assassinated the high-profile indigenous Lenca leader. The assassination comes after an escalation of a conflict over the construction of the Agua Zarca hydro project on the sacred Gualcarque River in the community of Agua Blanca. This assassination has sent shock waves across the region and put activists in similar struggles on edge.

Cáceres had cofounded the powerful Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) in 1993, and the group soon became involved in many of the social conflicts across Honduras. The organization had supported indigenous and campesino communities in their struggles against the dispossession of land and in their efforts to gain the legal rights to ancestral land.

The March 3 shooting has also left Gustavo Castro Soto, an anti-mining activist from Mexico, in a precarious situation. Castro Soto, who is the coordinator for Otros Mundos Chiapas and a coordinator for Mesoamerican Movement Against the Extractive Mining Model (M4), had been staying at Cáceres’ house to provide accompaniment in the hopes of deterring violence against her the night of her assassination.

He was shot two times, but survived. Cáceres died in his arms.

“This is a message to the populations that if they don’t accept the multinational companies, then their lives will be at threat.”

“The assassins who have killed Bertha [sic] and attempted [to] murder me remain unpunished as the government seeks to undermine the memory of Bertha and the honor and the magnificent struggle COPINH has done for many years in the defense of life, territories and human rights,”…

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