Internationally-Recognized Environmental Activist Berta Cáceres Martyred
Posted on 17 March 2016
IBON International statement on the murder of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres
Photo credit: The Goldman Environmental Prize
On March 3, indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, cofounder of the Council of Civic, Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was murdered by armed intruders in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. It is widely believed that these intruders were operating at the behest of the state and the private company contracted for the construction that she spent so much of her efforts protesting due to the grave danger it posed to the indigenous Lenca community. Her efforts, and the social gains attained as a result, serve as a crucial illustration of the key role of people’s organizations and civil society organizations (POs/CSOs) in development cooperation, embodying core values of a community-centered approach that should become a standard part of development cooperation practice.
Among the many ways of honoring Cáceres’s memory, the necessity of continuing her efforts should be emphasized. For the international community, this means, in part, supporting the struggle of the indigenous Lenca to protect their land, and their rights to self-determination, in any proposed development agenda. But it also means confronting the effective cause of the circumstances leading to her death: transnational linkages between repressive state forces and private enterprises often operating under the auspices and coordination of international financial institutions (IFIs).
The organization of Honduran state forces, later mobilized for the violent repression of COPINH and the Lenca community as they protested the destruction of their homes and community, underwent important changes after the US-supported coup that deposed democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya. Of the six generals responsible for the coup, it should be noted, four were trained by the US Department of Defense, in Fort Benning, Georgia at what was formerly called the School of the Americas, but is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation, an institution known as the alma mater of some of Latin America’s most notorious dictators.
Following the coup, the new administration eagerly embraced the neoliberal development model, tooting the slogan “Honduras is open for business,” taking measures to attract foreign investors, and negotiating agreements with IFIs such the World Bank—IFC on infrastructure development. In 2010, the Honduran government approved the construction of 47 different dam project proposals, one of these being for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project, a system of four interconnected dams along the Gualcarque River. The project was approved without consultation of the stake-holding communities, many of whose livelihoods would be threatened by the construction plans, despite the fact that plans encroached on indigenous territory. Such dam construction lies at an intersection of trends in both developmental and environmental policy-making.
On the environmental side, mega-dam construction has benefited from a rebranding as a “clean” energy alternative due to its non-reliance on fossil fuels, which is misleading due to under-reported negative ecological impacts and massive community displacement—both notable in cases such as that of Sardar Sarovar in India (one of the World Bank’s most