When activism costs your life

In June 2009, the Honduran military overthrew Honduran President Zelaya by entering his presidential palace with heavy weapons and forcing him to resign.

The new government was led by Roberto Micheletti – the new de facto president – leading Honduras in months of heavy protests and chaos. While practically all Latin American governments condemned the coup d’état and called for Zelaya’s restoration, the U.S. pushed for new elections to vote a new government. In 2010, Porfirio Lobo Sosa was finally elected as Honduras’ new President.

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Despite the normalization of the political life in the Central American country, Honduras became home to one of the highest homicide capital rates in the world for several years. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crimes estimated that there were 90 murders every 100,000 inhabitants (this peak was reached in 2011). A high percentage of these brutal deaths concerns Honduras’ environmental activists: between 2010 and 2014 more than one hundred activists were killed in a country where 98% of violent crimes remain unsolved.

Global Witness, a think tank and NGO focused on investigating and condemning abuses on natural resources exploitation, claims that Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists due to the incredibly high rate of homicides, the lack of governmental protection and the widespread proliferation of guns.

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On the 3rd of March, 2016, the world was shocked by hearing the news of the violent death of Berta Cáceres. The famous environmental activist was killed by a gunman who entered her house in the town La Esperanza and shot her. Cáceres was fighting against the Agua Zarca Dam – a dam’s project on Gualcarque River – because its construction would have put hundreds of indigenous people in danger and inevitably changed the precious Honduran landscape. Her passion, courage and determination won her the Goldman Environmental prize because, as stated: “In a country with growing socioeconomic inequality and human rights violations, Berta Cáceres rallied the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam”.

In 2010 the Honduras’ government passed a law allowing different private companies to build dams and hydroelectric buildings in the country. The Agua Zarca Dam was one of the project quickly approved and supported. This dam is projected to be built near the Gualcarque River, on a land inhabited by the indigenous people called Lenca. These people started to protest pacifically in 2011 but, after they were ignored by the government, the protests became more and more violent. Eventually, the police had an excuse to arrest Lenca people in masses, use guns against them and expropriate their houses.

The strong activism of Berta against the dam forced her, starting from 2013, to live under an increasing number of pressures and threats. She was obliged to live hiding while three of her colleagues were killed for opposing to the Agua Zarca Dam. At the same time, the DESA – the Honduran company responsible for the construction of the dam – sued her in a tribunal for riots’ incitement.

Berta felt in danger and confessed to her friend: “They follow me. They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me; they threaten my family”.

On the 3rd of March 2016, Honduras lost one of its most important environmental activist: Berta was killed for her ideas and for her battles.

Despite the increasing danger for the activists’ movements in Honduras, people will keep carrying on Berta’s fight. Her nephew Silvio Carrillo said, “Her murder is an act of cowardice that will only amplify Berta’s message to bring about change in Honduras and make this a better, more human world.”

 

Francesco Stefani

 

 

 

 

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