Honduran environmental activist, Berta Cáceres, was killed yesterday morning when armed men broke into her home in La Esperanza, about 200 km west of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.
Although reports differ, at least two gunmen entered the home around 1am. According to information from a friend of Cáceres, at least four bullets struck the environmentalist.
Police said one suspect, a security guard in the neighbourhood where the events took place, has been arrested.
While police told local media the murder most likely occurred during an attempted robbery, family members insist it was an assassination in response to Cáceres’ high-profile activism on projects like the Agua Zarca Dam – one of Central America’s largest hydro-electric projects, in the Gualcarque river basin – for which she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize last year.
In a radio interview, Cáceres’ 84-year-old mother said she has “no doubt [Cáceres] has been killed because of her struggle, and that soldiers and people working for the dam are responsible.”
Despite these claims, La Esperanza’s police commissioner, Sergio Paz Bueso, faults Cáceres herself for not informing police of a recent change in address.
While permanent patrols and police details secured her previous home in the El Calvario neighbourhood of La Esperanza, Paz Bueso told local newspapers that Cáceres had not reported her new house in the El Libano neighbourhood – where the events took place – to authorities, and so no security was present.
The murder has prompted responses from several international bodies both offering their condolences and condemning the Honduran authorities for the record of impunity within the Central American country.
In a statement from Paris, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders – a program developed between the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) – called the murder a demonstration of the “unwillingness of the Honduran authorities to ensure the protection of human rights activists.”
Amnesty International said the Honduran authorities’ reduction of the event to the unfortunate result of an attempted robbery was “concerning.”
According to a report entitled “How Many More?” released in April 2015 by London-based NGO, Global Witness, over the past five years, Honduras has become the most dangerous country per capita in the world for environmentalists, with 101 deaths between 2010 and 2014.
“They follow me. They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me. They threaten my family. This is what we face,” Cáceres told Global Witness in 2015.
Her campaign has held up the Agua Zarca Dam project and prompted the withdrawal of both the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, over concerns of human rights violations, and the world’s largest dam-builder, China’s Sinohydro, citing community resistance as the reason for terminating the contract.
According to the Global Witness report, three of Cáceres’ colleagues have been killed for resisting the Agua Zarca dam since 2013.
Beginning at 12pm today, a demonstration gathered in front of the Embassy of Honduras in Buenos Aires, Av. Santa Fe 936, is scheduled, demanding “Justice for Berta Cáceres”.