Truthdigger of the Week: Berta Cáceres, Slain Champion of Human Rights and the Earth
Posted on Mar 12, 2016
Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.
In a country deemed just last year the most dangerous in the world for environmentalists, Honduran activist Berta Cáceres knew she would not live a long life. After the indigenous leader was murdered by gunmen in her home in Honduras on March 3, her nephew Silvio Carrillo told The Guardian, “I think she would have rather died while in a protest but these cowards took her unawares. She knew this was going to happen. She had prepared for it.”
In the face of numerous threats to her well-being, Cáceres continued her lifelong struggle to protect human rights, heading the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH) and leading environmental campaigns such as the fight to keep a potentially destructive dam from being built on the Gualcarque River. For her efforts to thwart the hydroelectric project, the activist won the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, an award considered by many to be the Nobel Prize of environmentalism.
As a Lenca community leader, she championed indigenous rights and dedicated herself to reforming Honduras’ systemic corruption, helping democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya until he was ousted in a 2009 coup, which the Obama administration did nothing to condemn.
Asked by “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman what his aunt was “trying to do in her life,” Carrillo said, “She was trying to be a mother, be a daughter, be an aunt, be a human being, respect human beings. And this is what she did every day for the indigenous people of Honduras and across Latin America.”
In the same program, Cáceres’ longtime friend Beverly Bell delivered a powerful description of the activist’s work:
The handling of the investigation into Cáceres death, which is widely viewed as a targeted assassination, has inspired protests across South America. The only eyewitness to the crime, Mexican activist Gustavo Castro Soto—who survived by pretending he’d been killed by the bullets that wounded him—has been held for questioning by Honduran authorities. There is growing concern in the activist community that his life is in danger.
Commenting on Cáceres’ assassination, an article in The Hill invoked a fitting quote, words that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the funeral for civil rights worker James Reeb in 1965: “[We] must be concerned not merely about who murdered him, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murder.” The article—written by Robin Broad, John Cavanagh and Joe Eldridge—blames a “culture of impunity” and the “long tragic history of misguided U.S. policy that has pursued expediency above principle,” sending a message that “the United States is an unreliable defender of democracy and human rights.” The article went on to demand that the U.S. government rise to the occasion and seek answers to Cáceres’ assassination.
Cáceres risked and ultimately lost her life to make this earth a better home for all its children and to save it from the greed and corruption that is systematically destroying the environment. Her death—on the day before her 45th birthday—is a reminder to others to continue her life’s work by fighting for justice through peaceful protests and grass-roots movements, beginning with a unified demand that the crime not go unpunished.
For embodying the type of heroism required to protect and sustain underprivileged communities and this savaged earth, the late Berta Cáceres is our Truthdigger of the Week.
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