Berta Cáceres in the Rio Blanco region of western Honduras where she, COPINH, and locals maintained a two year protest to halt construction on the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric dam. | Image source: goldmanprize.org
“They follow me. They threaten to kill me – to kidnap me. They threaten my family. That is what we face,” said Berta Cáceres (Lenca) when talking about the dangers activists face in Honduras. Cáceres was a prolific environmental and Indigenous rights activist who had the courage to continue to defend the land and her community in the face of corporate and government violence. Sadly, Berta was assassinated in her own home in La Esperanza, Honduras on March 3rd, 2016.
Before her death, Cáceres was instrumental in a campaign against the construction of the Agua Zarca Dam, which was to be built in traditional Lenca territory on the Gulcarque River – without the consent of the Lenca people. Protesters often faced violent attacks from unidentifiable armed forces who have never been brought to justice. Since 2013 three of Cáceres’ colleagues have been killed for protesting the dam, while another, Nelson García, was assassinated just days after her murder. Despite the violence and death toll, the campaign was effective enough to cease the project’s construction and have its funding pulled by Dutch and Finnish development finance companies, FMO and FinnFund.
During her lifetime, Cáceres co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to advocate for Indigenous rights; took on militarized security contractors and the Honduran armed forces during protests; and was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, which is the highest recognition environmental activists can receive internationally.
On March 11, 2016, Idle No More Toronto and Common Frontiers Canada united to call on the Canadian government to condemn the assassination of Cáceres in a co-organized protest outside of Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland’s office. “Indigenous land defenders like Berta are often the target of corporations, who are in collusion with governments to usurp the lands for mega development projects,” explained Idle No More organizer, Tori Cress (Anishinaabe). Global Witness released a report stating that 109 activists have been killed in Honduras alone between 2010 and 2015, mostly related to resistance of development projects and land disputes. “It’s so dangerous in South America right now because governments have access to corporate money to subdue the Indigenous voices of resistance, quickly, swiftly and with absolutely no regard for human rights,” said Cress.
During the protest, Cress stressed the importance of Indigenous nations from the Northern and Southern Hemisphere working together. “We can become united and really have an uprising of Indigenous people around the world,” she announced. “The more we gather together, the louder our voices are going to be, the more the Canadian government is going to understand how much we mean business.” Cress has worked to unite the Northern and Southern Indigenous cultures by promoting Indigenous sovereignty and decolonization through social media, the organization of rallies and community outreach.
As the protest came to a close, Cress talked about the significance of The Eagle and Condor Prophecy. In Anishinaabe teachings, the eagle represents love because it flies closest to the Creator giving far reaching sight to the seekers below. Like the eagle, the condor is sacred because of it’s ability to fly high altitudes and is believed to be the messenger between heaven and earth. The prophecy states: when the eagle of the North and the condor of the South fly together, there will be peace upon the Earth. The eagles of the North cannot be free without the condors of the South.
“We need to work together on a global scale,” Cress said. “We need to make sure that we fulfill the Eagle and Condor prophecy. We need to stand together. Then they can’t get through us.”
Canada – Honduras Free Trade Agreement
Oct 1, 2014 Canada entered into a Free Trade Agreement with Honduras under former Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s government. A Human Rights Watch report cited that “Honduras suffers from rampant crime and human rights abuses, [and that] the unlawful use of force by police is a chronic problem, [especially since] efforts to address endemic corruption within the police force have made little progress.”