“Berta no murio, se multiplicó” is persistently shouted in unison throughout manifestations of transnational solidarity with the family of Berta Isabel Caceres Flores. One year ago today, four male assailants broke into the home of this revolutionary indigenous leader and murdered her in an attempt to subdue mobilizations against the Honduran government’s resource extraction projects that threaten the livelihood of indigenous communities.
The government sought to silence this womxn’s ability to galvanize national and global resistance and consciousness by means of state-sponsored violence — without anticipating the eternal spring of resistance her spirit would forever embody.
Over the past year, the number of suspects grew from an initial four to a current eight, from private company security guards to upper echelons of the national army, and from the security apparatus to the federal government. A couple of days ago, The Guardian revealed that a chief of army intelligence and another officer trained at the School of Americas participated in the planning of this Lenca leader’s murder. This conclusion signifies how entrenched the discrimination against indigenous communities is in the Honduran government that was instructed to provide her with the protection she deserved. Berta was the “beneficiary of precautionary measures” granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights after years of being violently harassed and threatened by state and multinational company officials and President Juan Orlando Hernandez did nothing to prevent this tragedy.
Berta, as an indigenous womxn, represented one of the fiercest challenges to the neoliberal governments of ex-President Porfirio Lobo Sosa and current President Juan Orlando Hernandez and their agenda to override indigenous claims to ancestral land across Honduras. The trajectory of these men into executive power is a result of overthrowing the constitutionally elected president Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, who among many things, decreed the redistribution of unused land owned by large landowners to landless families. Threatening the massive land holdings of the national Honduran elite is one of the reasons why Zelaya was ousted by a military coup and why the campesino resistance against the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the Rio Gualcarque, located in Berta’s native state, continues to be severely repressed.
Berta Caceres’ consistent denunciations of Honduras’ neo-colonial governance put her life in the extreme danger she had been willing to risk, considering her unconditional love and passion in defending the rights of indigenous communities and sacred land. She contributed much to the organized mobilizations that took place following the coup in the Lower Aguan Valley where local cooperatives of farmers violently clashed for land control under the jurisdiction of Miguel Facusse’ industrial monopoly of African-palm oil. However, it was her tireless leadership in mobilizing local and international opposition to Desarrollo Energetico SA’s (DESA) intention to privatize a Lenca sacred river that would decide her unfortunate fate.
The co-founder of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH) anticipated this injustice knowing how united capitalism, racism, and patriarchy in Honduras are in the fight against indigenous resistance. Despite the devastation her death brought to her hometown of La Esperanza, Honduras, hope for sound justice continues to manifest in the thousands organizing before the Honduran presidential house and Honduran consulates and embassies around the world. Gang and drug-related murders are not the only cause for homicide violence in Honduras when it remains one of the most violent countries for environmental activists.
The military’s involvement in the murdering of indigenous activists like Berta Caceres and the indifference from the national government must be held accountable by actual institutional forces willing to reveal the impunity that has obstructed justice for her family, community, and international allies. Before the United Nations in March, Bertha Zuniga Caceres demanded that the Honduran state take immediate action in asking the Inter American Human Rights Commission to create a team of expert independent investigators that would initiate a transparent investigation into her mother’s assassination. The institutional persecution Berta faced throughout her years as an indigenous organizer against neoliberal development projects represents the Honduran government’s normalization in threatening the rights of indigenous communities, especially womxn leading environmental campaigns for the sustainability of the country’s ecosystem and future.
Individual land titling is a colonial tool of natural resource domination that continues being practiced today by the national elite and multinational companies profiting off the displacement of rural and indigenous communities. Collective land claims are life-threatening when rural communities are deprived of direct political participation and discriminated against for not abiding by the neoliberal doctrine of agricultural development. Berta Caceres defied this and continues to do so as her spirit manifests into the eternal resistance demonstrated in the mobilizations led by the Garifuna, Lenca, and her courageous children.
There is so much more to say about Berta Caceres and the evil nature of the current government in power that prides itself as a savior for the country being excessively militarized. From her name appearing to a military hit list to members of COPINH being continuously intimidated and murdered, the time, Berta warned the global community, to defend this planet’s life ran out by the time she gave her Goldman Environmental Prize. She stated “We must shake our conscience of rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only ensure our self-destruction”.
As ancestral guardians of the rivers that flow throughout Honduras, the spring in which her life was taken has transformed it into a season of resistance that is not simply year-round, but eternal. Today, one year after her death, thousands will honor the legacy of Berta Caceres and the intersectional transformations she fought for relentlessly.
Berta has already returned — she is now the ancestor watering the blossoming of the many more Berta’s determined to fight for the life and this sacred earth.