Why did they murder Berta Cáceres?

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A solidarity banner for Berta Cáceres in Guatemala City’s Constitution Square, 2016. Photo by Patricia Macías.

 “They follow me. They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me. They threaten my family. This is what we face.”

          Berta Cáceres

By Vicky Gass, Oxfam.

On March 2nd, Berta Cáceres was brutally murdered in her home by two men who broke down the door to her house and shot and killed her. An absolute tragedy. Oxfam has vehemently condemned her murder.

Berta was a member of the Lenca indigenous group in Honduras, and a tireless human rights and environmental activist.  In 1993, she co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to confront the threats to her people from illegal logging, to fight for their territorial rights and to improve their livelihoods.

In 2006, COPINH’s struggle turned towards the construction of the hydroelectric dam Agua Zarca, which was being built by the Honduran corporation DESA with international financing, without the free, prior and informed consent of the Lenca communities required by law. The project was illegally authorized by the Honduran Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SERNA), which fabricated documents citing community approval. The authorization was in violation of government obligations under the ILO Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention (Convention 169).

Read about the recent murders of Guatemalan opponents to dams and other megaprojects here.

Berta and COPINH led the Lenca communities’ campaign of peaceful but forceful opposition to the project to both the company and the Honduran government. For their work, they were intimidated and threatened. Berta knew that for her work protecting their land, she could pay with her life. And she did.

Berta died defending the land of her people and the environment. The senseless killing of Berta and others before her, and the violence and intimidation endured by land rights defenders is unacceptable. Too much blood has been shed. In tribute to Berta’s life and work, the international community must unite to fight for the ideas Berta fought for.  Primary among them, securing indigenous and community land rights everywhere. This is urgent. For indigenous peoples, for humanity, and for our planet. Just hours before Berta’s tragic killing, more than 300 organizations worldwide launched a global campaign to secure indigenous and community land rights, #LandRightsNow, an initiative supporting indigenous people’s right to land around the world.

Her murder is a tragedy for her family and for the world, and the global condemnation and demand for a thorough investigation has been immediate. We must not forget, however, that what she fought for – land, environmental preservation and justice – is what indigenous and collective land holders worldwide are fighting for. At Oxfam we will continue to work with our colleagues in this fight. As Berta’s mother said after her daughter’s death, “the struggle continues.”