The legacy of Berta Cáceres: a fight for indigenous rights and environmental justice

Eight years have passed since the assassination of Berta Cáceres, the courageous leader of the Lenca indigenous people who paid with her life for her fight for the environment and civil rights

Eight years have passed since the night of March 2-3, 2016, when Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home. A fierce advocate for the rights of indigenous populations in Honduras and the protection of rivers, particularly the Gualcarque, Cáceres paid the ultimate price for her commitment. While her killers have been convicted, many questions still surround her assassination and the fate of other activists in the country.

London-based journalist Nina Lakhani recently shed light on Cáceres’s life and the search for the masterminds behind her murder in her investigative book, “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?”

A life dedicated to environmental and rights struggles

Berta Cáceres, a member of the Lenca people—Honduras’s largest indigenous group—co-founded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) in 1994 with her husband Salvador Zuniga. COPINH focuses on environmental defense and indigenous rights, particularly concerning river territories.

With unwavering determination and bravery, Cáceres fought against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project on the Gualcarque river, a venture that blatantly disregarded the principles of the ILO Convention 169, recognizing indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination since 1989.

Despite facing repeated threats to her and her family’s safety, Cáceres remained a vocal advocate for civil and environmental causes. She continued her activism even after separating from her children to protect them. A year before her death, she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, often regarded as the environmental Nobel Prize.

“We must undertake the fight in all parts of the world, wherever we are, because we don’t have a spare or replacement planet. We only have this one, and we must act,” Cáceres stated in an interview with The Guardian upon winning the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Berta Cáceres’s family demands justice

Two years ago, David Castillo, the owner of the energy company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) behind the Agua Zaca dam project, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his involvement in Cáceres’s murder. Yet, nearly a decade later, Berta Cáceres’s family and indigenous communities continue to seek justice for her brutal killing. Although the mastermind behind the assassination remains unidentified, the family has long suspected Daniel Atala, DESA’s financial manager, who was issued an arrest warrant last December but remains free.

Olivia Zúniga, one of Cáceres’s daughters and now the Honduran ambassador to Cuba, expressed her exhaustion and desire for truth, stating:

“I no longer have a voice. Words fail to emerge, they are too many and turn into tears that burst like a river in flood, dammed and freed. The journey has been too long. Mom, may your spirit prevent them from hiding.”

Honduras remains one of the most dangerous countries for environmentalists, where numerous indigenous leaders and activists risk their lives daily to defend their territories.

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