Berta Cáceres, 1973-2016: The Fight Goes On

, senior energy analyst, Clean Energy | March 4, 2016, 3:44 pm EDT
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Sad news yesterday out of my beloved Honduras says a lot about the fight for environmental justice, the importance of leadership, and the need to make sure that everything each of us does in this area is bigger than any one of us.

Berta Cáceres (Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize)

Berta Cáceres (Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize)

“La mataron por su lucha”

In the early hours of yesterday morning, Berta Cáceres, a world-renowned environmental activist from the Lenca indigenous community, was murdered in her home. Cáceres won a 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership in the fight against a hydroelectric dam in western Honduras.

As the New York Times reports:

Since 2013, Ms. Cáceres’s organization, the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, has protested to try to stop the dam’s construction. Under international law, indigenous groups must be consulted on projects that affect their lands, but the Lenca say they were not consulted about the dam. They maintain that the 22MW hydroelectric project, which would create a 300-meter long reservoir and divert 3 kilometers of the river, will jeopardize their water resources and their livelihood.

The crime will have to be investigated—the police reportedly suspect it was a robbery—but for Cáceres’s mother it was clear that “la mataron por su lucha”—“they killed her because of her struggle.”

La lucha sigue

I feel so close to that world, yet so very far. For several wonderful years in the 1990s, Honduras was my home. It was where I learned something of the realities of how most of the world lives, far from the abundance and security of countries like the United States—even far from the electric grids I focus so much on these days. It was where I got my start in clean energy, working to make solar power a reality for rural households. It was where it became clear how I could bring some talents to bear to help make the world a better place.

Like so many of us working in clean energy or on environmental issues, though, it was not a place where I had to put my life on the line. The life path I started down in Honduras was not likely to put me in mortal danger to defend what I believe in.

Not so for champions like Cáceres. Many face regular, even daily, threats as they look to defend their communities, their livelihoods, our planet.

In a statement about Cáceres’s murder, GreenLatinos, a national non-profit of Latino leaders committed to addressing environmental issues that significantly affect health and welfare, pushed back on that way of life for so many:

We strongly condemn the brutal actions of those that wish to intimidate and put fear in individuals and communities that are standing up and fighting to protect their land, water and their way of life.

Because the fight goes on, as it must. The fight for justice, for decision making rooted in values, in broad engagement of affected parties, and in facts and science. In an understanding of needs and opportunities, of costs and benefits and consequences and possibilities.

The fight doesn’t lead to the rejection of every large-scale project, energy-related or otherwise, nor should it. But it must lead to solid decisions that take into account not just the economics for the many, but the need and rights of all.

So the fight goes on.

So much of the fight—so much of what needs to happen to move toward a more just world—needs leadership, people with the conviction and vision to see things not as they are, but as they should be, as they will be. People like Berta Cáceres.

All of those struggles, however, are bigger than just one person, however compelling or effective that one soul. As GreenLatinos put it:

The murder of Berta is undoubtedly meant to silence her brave voice, but it will only serve to strengthen and sharpen the voices of current and future advocates that stand alongside her.

To say that my beloved Honduras is going through a rough period is an understatement. That’s certainly true for people like Cáceres: 101 campaigners were killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2014, The Guardian reports—“a higher death toll relative to population than anywhere else.”

But the arc of history bends toward justice. In the wake of tragedies such as this one, we need to work harder to bend that arc.

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  • On
    October 1, 2014, Canada implemented a Free Trade Agreement with
    Honduras despite opposition from civil society and labour organizations.
    The deal provided diplomatic and economic backing to an undemocratic
    government responsible for widespread human rights abuses, political
    violence that has generated massive inequality.

  • Canadians please join: Canada Waking Up the Masses
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/canadawakingupthemasses/

  • Ulla

    John, thanks so much for weighing in on this tragic event. It’s neat to know your ties to Honduras. It’s such a humble reminder of our fortune. What we think of as our struggles are so much less so when we consider what it takes to stand up to environmental injustices around the world. I’m a coward by comparison. Viva la lucha!
    ~Ulla Reeves

    • ucsjrogers

      Thanks, Ulla. We’re not cowards — we’re just not faced with having to make the same choices as Berta did. But it is important to remember, as we work to correct injustice here, that others around the country and around the world are doing it under much more challenging, even perilous, circumstances. That doesn’t make our work any less important, given challenges right here at home. But it might help us keep things in perspective.

      Adelante.

  • AlanMacDonald

    A short step from this to a President Trump yelling “get them
    out”, in reference to what he would likely call “eco terrorists” — based
    on the brutal tactics he already directs upon any unwelcome and
    peaceful protesters at Il Donald’s campaign events”.

    Seems like a lesson being taught by the Disguised Global Capitalist
    Empire (HQed in and ‘posing’ as America) from the periphery of the
    Empire to those non-violent environmental protesters nearer the
    metropole.

    As Hannah Arendt warned the German and all people about all Empires:

    “Empire abroad entails tyranny at home”

    • ucsjrogers

      Thanks for weighing in, Alan. This isn’t a partisan issue, though (and we’re not a partisan organization). Bad stuff happens under different types of governments, with different inclinations. The point is to focus on why, and how to correct them. I work at UCS now, rather than still in Honduras, in part because I believe we have real opportunities, in my native land, to fix things — to correct injustices of various types — with strong attention to science, with decision making rooted in science, with democracy based on engagement and informed consent (hence UCS’s Center for Science and Democracy). We’re not done yet, but in many ways we’re making progress. – John