Femme History: Berta Cáceres
Honduran environmental activist, Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores, fought for the rights of Indigenous Lenca people and the lands they live on.
Growing up in Central America during the violence of the 1970s, Cáceres developed strong humanitarian beliefs from an early age. Her mother, Berta Flores, was a midwife, social activist and most importantly, her daughter’s role model. After studying education and receiving her teacher qualification, Cáceres went on to dedicate her life to the protection of the environment. In 1993, Cáceres co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Cáceres has led campaigns that addressed a variety of issues, including illegal logging, plantations, and the presence of U.S. military bases on land belonging to the Lenca people. Cáceres was a known supporter of feminism, LGBTQ rights, and a wide range of indigenous issues.
Cáceres was awarded the Shalom Award by the Society for Justice and Peace at the Catholic University of Eichstätt Ingolstadt in 2012. In 2014, she was a finalist for the Front Line Defenders Prize, and in 2015 she won the Goldman Environmental Prize.
In 2006, Cáceres was asked to investigate the recent arrival of construction equipment in the Río Blanco area. She discovered that the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos, Chinese company Sinohydro, and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation planned to construct four dams on the Rio Gualcarque. This was a violation of international law as the local Lenca people were not consulted about the project, and it could potentially disrupt their access to food and water. In 2013, Caceres led COPINH and the local community in a year long protest at the construction site. During this protest, Honduran courts forced Cáceres to stay in the country until the case was dismissed in February of 2014.
In 2014, Honduras was ranked the most dangerous country in the world, relative to its size and population, for environmental activists. In addition, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommended that the government take “precautionary measures” to ensure her safety. Despite the imminent threat to her life, Cáceres bravely decided to stay in Honduras and continue her work.
“I want to live, there are many things I still want to do in this world but I have never once considered giving up fighting for our territory, for a life with dignity, because our fight is legitimate.”
On the morning of March 3, 2016, Cáceres was murdered in her home. She was forty-four years old. After news of her death was announced, protests took place in Honduras, the United States, and outside the Honduran Embassies in Colombia, Spain, Austria, Germany, and Mexico. The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Organization of American States, and Amnesty International have called for investigations into her murder. Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez has made the investigation into her murder a top priority. Her death has served as a rallying call for increased visibility and protection for environmental activists living in dangerous countries.
Cáceres is survived by her four children, Olivia, Berta, Laura and Salvador, and her ex-husband, Salvador Zúñiga. She will continue to be an inspiration to environmentalists and women around the world.