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Blood River: the life and murder of Berta Cáceres

A gripping podcast series about the famous Honduran environmental defender

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Little over a week after she had received threats for opposing a hydroelectric dam project, news broke of the murder of Honduran environmental and indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres. Her killing sparked international outrage and violent clashes in Honduras, while shining a spotlight on the lack of protection offered to environmental defenders in Latin America, as well as impunity surrounding crimes committed against them.

During her life, Cáceres stood up against powerful landowners, the world’s largest dam builder and an army of private security guards in Honduras to defend the rights of her fellow Lenca people and the environment. Having grown up amid the violence that plagued Central America through the 1980s, Cáceres became a student activist before co-founding the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). In 2012, LAB published an interview with her about this work.

Berta Cáceres
Berta Cáceres. Image: UN Environment – ONU Brasil – https://vimeo.com/214055225, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75284769

Her biggest challenge came when she was approached by members of the Rio Blanco community who reported machinery arriving in their town and an act of aggression against the river, a place of spiritual importance for Lenca people. This signified an attack against the community, as well as its autonomy. In response, Cáceres coordinated a campaign against the construction of the Agua Zarca Dam. From filing formal complaints against authorities to leading a peaceful protest against its establishment to setting up a high-profile road blockade in 2013, Cáceres tirelessly used a range of strategies to defend the river and, perhaps more importantly, what it meant for the Lenca people. Eventually, construction on the dam was halted.

In 2015, Cáceres was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts, achieving some international recognition, but continued to receive threats to her life. Despite, or rather because of her courageous stance and continued work to defend human and environmental rights in the face of such risks, on March 2, 2016, armed gunmen stormed Cáceres’ home, shooting her dead.

According to the 2017 report of the International Expert Advisory Panel (Grupo Asesor Internacional de Personas Expertas – GAIPE), her murder was probably orchestrated by a network of senior business executives and Honduran officials who wanted to silence her efforts to stop the Agua Zarca dam’s construction.

Since then, some efforts have been made to bring those responsible for her death to justice. In July of last year, a former US-trained Honduran army intelligence officer who was the former executive director of the company constructing the dam was convicted as an intellectual author of Cáceres’ murder. However, reports suggest only a fraction of those involved have been investigated.

In a series of nine episodes lasting around 40 minutes each, Blood River explores Cáceres’ life and murder, as well as the investigations and judicial proceedings that have followed. It is available to listen to on Apple Music, Spotify and other platforms.

Part 1: The Witness

Part 2: A Dangerous Woman

Part 3: May 2, 2016

Part 4: ‘A Treasure Trove’

Part 5: The CEO

Part 6: The Defense

Part 7: ‘Berta Became Millions’

Part 8: The Trial

Part 9: The Verdict

And a follow-up with latest developments:

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Environmental Defenders Blog

No-one embodied the courage of those defending their land, the natural environment and the future of their people and the planet, more than Berta Cáceres, Honduran environmental activist and indigenous leader, who was murdered in March 2016, a year after winning the prestigious Goldman Environmental prize.

Out of 227 land and environmental activists murdered in 2020, according to Global Witness, at least 163 of these killings were in Latin America, with Colombia (65) the most dangerous country.

This new blog series will document some of the work of environmental defenders in different countries, highlighting both the dangers and the achievements.

The series is curated for LAB by Katie Jones, who lived and worked in Mexico as an English teacher in the state of Puebla. Until the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, she was teaching in Costa Rica and was an active member of a local NGO aiming to assist the quality of education for children in an underprivileged barrio. She worked as an investigator for InSight Crime, a foundation specialised in the study of organised crime in Latin America and the Caribbean. She is currently studying a masters in Latin American Studies at the University of Oxford.

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