Meet Berta Cáceres: The Environmental Activist here to Save Our Planet

Berta Caceres 2015 Goldman Environmental Award Recipient
Berta Caceres in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras where she, COPINH (the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) and the people of Rio Blanco have maintained a two year struggle to halt construction on the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric project, that poses grave threats to local environment, river and indigenous Lenca people from the region. She gathered with members of COPINH and Rio Blanco during a meeting remembering community members killed during the two year struggle.

Society can spend a vast amount of time talking about differences. The variance in politics, world views, race, nationality, and opinions. Time and energy are invested to show all the ways we’re different, setting us apart. However, every one of us has witnessed or read about the amazing things that can happen when individuals come together for one purpose. The best of humanity is seen when people stand united. 

Berta Cáceres was a woman who made a difference. A single person who sparked a fire in an entire community. Inspiring the Lenca to rise up against a corporation threatening the life of the indigenous group in Honduras. It was a role that she was meant to play, often the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Ms. Cáceres’ mother, a midwife and social activist took care of Salvadorians during a time of turmoil. Growing up during the violent 1980s in Central America exposed the young Cáceres to injustices early on in her life. Her mother instilled the importance of standing up for those that don’t have or know their fundamental rights.

Cáceres’ fight for the indigenous Lenca and its lands encouraged a strong campaign against the projects like Agua Zarca Dam. The building of this dam would have eliminated the supply of water, food, and medication to many of the people in that community. The joint project initiated by Desarrollos Energeticos SA (DESA), a Honduran company along with Sinohydro, the largest developer of dams were close to marginalizing a community into a corner. Crews were ready to break ground at Gualcarque River without input from the people of Lenca. This would have been a blatant breach of international treaties that dictate the rights of the indigenous people. 

Ms. Cáceres was not new to activism. Student activities during her college years led to the co-founding of COPINHthe National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras. The group highlighted the increasing dangers to these communities and gave its people a voice. They were taught to stand up for their rights to live a decent life on their land. A revolution had begun with a woman’s decision to confront the big bullies. But like many great deeds, there was a price to pay for the uprising. The case of Berta Cáceres, unfortunately, was not an exception.

Cáceres was known to have knowledge of a possible attempt on her life. She feared harm would come to her and her family. Security became an increasing concern over time as the opposition gained strength. The Honduran government had been awarding contracts to private companies looking to build their dams. The people were not letting up on the fight, Cáceres remained on the front lines while the demonstrations grew. On March 3, 2016, two days before she turned 45-years old, Cáceres was assassinated in her hometown of La Esperanza, Honduras. The battles between a woman with the heart of a lion and DESA were tumultuous. Law enforcement knew of the turmoil but to no avail, as it seemed the interests of police officers, and government soldiers were elsewhere. The winner of the Goldman prize for environmental defenders was avenged in court. The murder was carried out by a group of men contracted by Agua Zarca Dam company blaming the protests for the hold up in work on the project creating massive financial failure. Incarceration was a minimal punishment for the men that took the life of a warrior who fought for the people of Lenca. Ironically, DESA continues in the business of dams perpetuating the peril to the communities for which Cáceres and environmentalists fought to take down. The struggle continues for all the heroes trying to save the planet.