Reflections On A Killing

Berta-caceresBerta Isabel Cáceres Flores, was a Honduran environmental activist, indigenous leader of the Lenca people, and co-founder and coordinator of COPINH*. After years of threats against her life, she was assassinated in her home on March 3, 2016.

A lifelong defender of the environment and human rights, she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for “a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam [proposal]” at the Río Gualcarque.

The killing of activists in Honduras like Cáceres is one of the direct outcomes of the U.S. backed overthrow of the Honduran government of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. Classified documents released by Wikileaks revealed the complicity of the Obama administration in the unconstitutional military coup. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted in her book Hard Choices “that she used the power of her office to make sure that Zelaya would not return to office”. She freely admits to what is a crime because she is confident she will never be held accountable.

Though it is difficult to determine all the motivations of such a clandestine act, at the time of the coup, the Honduran government was planning to turn a military base that the U.S. used (Palmerola Air Base) into a commercial airport. The U.S. would not have wanted to lose that access.

Whatever the specifics were, the coup was a disaster for Honduras. During his 3.5 years as President, Zelaya significantly reduced poverty and raised the minimum wage by nearly 100 percent. Since the coup, the trend towards equality has been sharply reversed.


The people of Honduras and the popular movement have suffered a big blow at the hands of what we are calling a dictatorship, and which, in terms of violation of human rights, has been criminal and repressive. We’ve seen how these repressive forces have dragged people out of their houses and has been brutal against the youth, against women, against indigenous people. And by this we mean to say that racism is really resurgent right now, racism and also violence against women. These things are reinforced by the militarization that has taken place in the whole region. We have around 15 compañeros that have been assassinated. Compañeros who were tortured before being killed and whose deaths were meant as a message to all of the young people and the demonstrators. In the South of the country, in Paraiso, there was someone who, after being captured, kidnapped basically, was tortured and then stabbed 47 times. And his body was left on the side of the road where the protests were taking place.

Berta Cáceres – interviewed 2011
– via The Huffington Post

In the span of 2010 – 2015, over 100 environmentalists were killed making Honduras the most dangerous country (per capita) to be a defender of the forests, rivers and land. Since the coup, violence and poverty rates have skyrocketed. 29 journalists have been killed and women and children in particular are targets. One woman is killed every 14 hours.

The killing of environmental activists is on the rise worldwide; The estimated number of these murders worldwide has tripled in a decade. Brazil is the world’s most deadly country for communities defending natural resources, with 448 confirmed deaths between 2002 and 2013, though fewer deaths per capita than Honduras.

There have been only 10 successful prosecutions connected with the killings in Brazil over the past 12 years. Isolete Wichinieski, national coordinator of the Brazilian group Commisão Pastoral da Terra, said: “what feeds the violence is the impunity”.

In the U.S., environmental activists do not generally face the direct threat of death. However, there are other challenges. We live in the belly of the beast, the heart of the empire. Oppression is of a different sort here. It is more subtle. The western media is the most sophisticated form of social programming ever devised and we are all submerged in it. It takes tremendous heart and intense vigilance to decolonize ourselves.

Here, we need to do as much inner work as outer. The social conditioning has created such a painful mix of intolerance, impotence and self-loathing. We need to discover how to truly and deeply like ourselves. We can learn a lot from the lives of courageous individuals like Berta Cáceres. Even the threat of death did not stop her from her compassionate work. Though we here do not face direct physical death, there are other kinds of death… death of the heart and spirit, the giving in to apathy and fear, the relinquishing of that little voice inside that knows.


We think it’s important to understand all of this history. It might not be reaching other audiences because of the media blackout and the campaign of terror that the commercial media is running. And for the same reason that I mentioned at the beginning: that we have been a forgotten country. Our history, our resistance, the accumulation of all of these demands that the people are expressing right now. Our people have more reason than ever to call for a constitutional assembly. Because water has been privatized, because the land is being privatized, and our resources, by this military government.

Berta Cáceres – interviewed 2011
– via The Huffington Post

There is much to learn from different cultures and peoples. We need to discover what solidarity is and how to stand together. To do so is to honor fallen comrades and to cultivate the ones still here and those yet to come.


* COPINH – Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras