Politics of Poverty

In honor of the life of brave advocate, Berta Cáceres

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Berta Cáceres, founder of National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize http://bit.ly/1Qr9f6f

Honduran activist Berta Cáceres was killed this week for her tireless and brave work to secure the rights of her fellow Hondurans and communities around the world. Let’s honor her by continuing that work.

Vicki Gass is the Central America Policy Advisor at Oxfam America.

“Me siguen. Me amenazan con matarme, con secuestrarme. Amenazan a mi familia. Esto es a lo que nos enfrentamos”  Berta Cáceres.

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

On March 2, Berta Cáceres was brutally murdered in her home by two men who broke down the door to her house, shot and killed her. An absolute tragedy to say the least, 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.  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 (C169).

Berta and COPINH led the Lenca communities´ campaign of peaceful but forceful opposition to the project to both the company and the Honduran government.  Because of their work, they were intimidated and threatened.  Berta knew that because of 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 come together to keep defending 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.”

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