Berta Cáceres and her fight against a mega hydropower project

One of Honduras’ most powerful voices for indigenous rights and environmental issues was murdered last week. Her assassination is no isolated case. Lillian Sol Cueva explains.

Berta Cáceres, a woman with dark hair, sitting on a river.

Human rights and environmental activist Berta Cáceres, born in 1973, was mudered on March 3, 2016. (Photo by Prachatal, modified, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


 

“We must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no other spare or replacement planet. We have only this one, and we have to take action.” Berta Cáceres

On March 3, 2016, in Honduras, Berta Cáceres was murdered in her house. Berta was a powerful voice and indigenous and environmental activist who fought with her life for her community – the Lenca people –, her country and planet.

In 1993, Berta co-funded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organization of Honduras (COPINH) which has participated in many demonstrations and campaigns against the explosive growth of environmentally destructive megaprojects, such as hydropower projects and mining. In 2006, at the head of COPINH, Cáceres led the resistance against the construction of the Agua Zarca Dam in the Gualcarque River basin and Lenca territory, which was intended to be executed by the biggest Chinese hydroelectric company, Sinohydro Corporation. In 2013, the dam construction was abandoned by the Chinese company due to continuous and persistent resistance by the community and after a tragic incident in which a Honduran soldier fatally shot another leader of the COPINH organization during a peaceful protest. In 2015, the project was relocated and exclusively granted to Desarrollos Energéticos S.A (DESA). During the same year, Berta was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her fight for the Lencas’ rights and territories and against the destructive dam. Just last month, the COPINH issued another alert that harassment and threats to the community fighting against the dam in the Gualcarque River, including Berta, had increased once again.

The Agua Zarca Dam Project is a relatively small hydropower project with a generating capacity of 22MW. The Agua Zarca was created in order to prevent the flow of foreign currency for the purchase of fossil fuels, develop power generation from a “renewable source”, reduce energy costs, avoid local pollution and as a result help to fight climate change. However, this project has caused severe damage to the surrounding river ecosystems and has violated basic human rights under the 169 ILO Convention which Honduras has ratified. These refer to the rights of local communities, particularly indigenous peoples, to participate in decision making about issues affecting them.

Berta´s assassination is not an isolated event in Honduras. Between 2010 and 2015, at least 109 environmental or land campaigners were killed according to NGO Global Witness. The majority comes from indigenous communities who have been fighting environmentally destructive development projects on their territories. It is important to remember that Honduras has had an explosive growth in such destructive developing projects, particularly in the mining sector since 2009. At least 30 percent of the country´s land has been earmarked for mining concessions based on cheap energy and abundant water supplies.

Today, it is necessary that the Honduran government studies the feasibility of its energy policy, holds an independent investigation into the circumstances of the death of Berta and others, guarantees the protection for activists and their families, and holds the following organizations responsible for their actions: the Honduran security forces, the dam builder DESA, as well as the stakeholders of this company: the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), the Dutch Development Bank FMO, The Finnish Development Aid FinnFund and Siemens.

¡Hasta siempre Berta! Seguiremos cuidando, caminando y soñando tus sueños.

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Lillian Sol Cueva

Lillian Sol Cueva is a Mexican citizen and holds a degree in International Relations from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a master’s degree in Humanitarian Action from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Her professional experience includes work in public policy, human and womens rights, sustainable development, energy and climate change. She has gained professional experience as a researcher, project coordinator, volunteer and public official in several national and international NGOs, as well as the Mexican government.

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