Goldman Environmental Prize Winner Murdered in Honduras

Berta Cáceres was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015. (Goldman Environmental Prize)

Berta Cáceres, a hugely influential Honduran indigenous rights activist, was killed in her hometown of La Esperenza, Intibucá, on Thursday. She would have turned 46 tomorrow.

Cáceres was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize after she led a peaceful campaign to stop one of the world's largest dam builders from pursuing the Agua Zarca Dam, which would have cut off the ethnic Lenca people from water, food and medicine.

La Prensa of Honduras reports that Cáceres was currently working to stop a company from building a hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque river, which the Rio Blanco community said would fundamentally change their way of life. Authorities, the paper reports, said she was killed during a robbery, but her mother said that Cáceres was killed "because of her struggle."

Cáceres had faced threats for her environmental activism. So much so that the the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights had called on the government of Honduras to provide her with protection.

La Prensa reports that police say Cáceres was killed at a house they were not surveilling.

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"We were protecting her old home at Villa El Calvario, but she had not reported this new house to authorities," Police Commissioner Sergio Paz Bueso told the paper.

In a statement, COPINH, the indigenous rights group that Cáceres worked for, characterized her murder as an "assassination." The group said:

"In the last few weeks, violence and repression towards Berta, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated. In Rio Blanco on February 20th, Berta, COPINH, and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats and repression as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally-financed Honduran company DESA. As a result of COPINH's work supporting the Rio Blanco struggle, Berta had received countless threats against her life and was granted precautionary measures by the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights. On February 25th, another Lenca community supported by COPINH in Guise, Intibuca was violently evicted and destroyed."

In a tweet, the Goldman Prize said it was "devastated to hear of Berta Cáceres' assassination."

Cáceres is survived by her four children — ages 26, 24, 23 and 21 — and her mother.

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To learn more about Cáceres' work, watch this five minute video about her struggle to stop the construction of Agua Zarca dam.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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