Those who killed Berta Caceres, the Honduran environmental coordinator and co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations, finally have names and faces. Three gunshots in the stomach killed the woman in her sleep during the night between 2 and 3 March in her own house. The arrested are Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, Mariano Diaz Chavez, Sergio Rodriguez Orellana and Edilson Duarte Meza. Three of them would be members of Desa, the power company whose hydroelectric projects were opposed by ecologist leaders; the fourth of them is a military man. Two months later, the Honduran State seems to be willing to put an end to this awkward story, but some people who are suspicious because these arrests happened too “timely”, just days after the call for an independent investigation by the international community.
“We all know that she died because of her battles,” her mother told a few hours after the murder, vigorously denying rumors according to which the woman had passed away during a robbery gone wrong, one among many other robberies that happen in the Honduran suburbs.
Three bullets silenced the young “luchadora” – as she liked to define herself – forever. She had fought for years to defend the rights of the indigenous peoples and the environment. Berta had helped the Rio Blanco community to prevent the construction of the hydroelectric complex Agua Zarca, in the basin of the river Gualcarque. A project that would have upset the natural equilibrium in the region forever, jeopardizing the water supply of about 600 families. It had been approved by the government, with no regard for the natives of the area. Berta Caceres’ assassination is not an isolated case.
According to the non-governmental organization Global Witness, the Central American country of Honduras has become the most dangerous in the world for ecologist militants over the past few years; 101 murders were recorded there in the period between 2010 and 2014. Offences gone unpunished, because the State seems to turn its back on the victims of these crimes. A slap in the face of the values Berta desired so much: justice, freedom, and social peace.
Those who knew her were aware of the death threats she had been receiving for years. These “forewarnings” were heavy like boulders, and they never ever believed that the woman died by accident. Even a few hours before she was killed, friends say that, near the dam, there were people who boasted about the fact that they were going to commit this crime. The famous activist was an almost granted target, so much so that the Human Rights Commission had intervened, asking the protection of the police. Yet, no one protected her and her numerous complaints have fallen on deaf ears.
The woman had repeatedly told the conditions she was forced to live in, along with other people committed – just like her – to the defense of indigenous peoples. She did so in many interviews, as in her last interview granted to CNN: “The Honduran State is implementing a criminalization policy. You can see it from the laws that have been approved. They have criminalized the human right to defend the common good and the environment, granting multinational companies the incredible privilege of working in Honduras with impunity.”
Exactly because she knew she was in danger, the leader of the natives had lived in a bungalow near La Speranza and had sacrificed family life. She gave up on keeping her children with her, whom she had sent to Argentina a few days before being murdered. The day before her brutal assassination, she had said goodbye to her daughter Laura at the airport with the following words: “If anything happens to me, do not be afraid.”
“We are facing great monsters. It is not easy, but neither is it impossible. Have historic responsibility and one of them is to let everyone know that we are a proud people, which opposed resistance every possible way, “Berta said in an interview with The Italian weekly L’Internazionale about 10 years ago. The struggle of the Honduran people in defense of the indigenous communities and the environment – assure those who were close to the luchadora in affection or ideals – will continue, perhaps with greater force, thanks to the pride demonstrated by the life – and death – of this courageous fighter for the Good.