Berta Caceres was born into a time of civil unrest in her country. She was a member of the Lenca people in La Esperanza in southwestern Honduras, the predominant indigenous group in that area. Her mother, Austra Flores, served as her first role model for activism.
Austra served both as a midwife and social activist in her region, welcoming and caring for refugees entering Honduras from El Salvador. Eventually she was elected as mayor of La Esperanza and served for two terms. After, she served as a congresswoman, and then governor of the Republic of Intibuca.
Berta’s activism followed in 1993, when as a student she co-founded the Council of Popular Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH, dedicated to supporting the rights of indigenous people in her country. Her campaigns focused on feminism, LGBT rights, illegal logging, and more.
Her first major work into environmental rights happened in 2013 after plans to construct a hydroelectric dam in Rio Blanco were revealed, threatening the Lenca people’s way of life. The companies planning the dam failed to talk to the locals, which went against international law.
She and COPINH continued to protest the dam, with security frequently removing protesters. The situation escalated with the Honduran military firing on the protesters and killing one, with many others receiving threats from the military, security, and company. The violence carried into 2014 with two more being killed and three being injured.
Eventually, two of the companies left the project due to the ongoing protests from COPINH, but a third decided to simply move sites. Despite the ongoing threats of harm and violence, Berta and her fellow protesters continued through many issues, never giving up.
Her efforts led to several honors, including being awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015. According to the Goldman Environmental Prize, their mission is to honor “the achievements and leadership of grassroots environmental activists from around the world, inspiring all of us to take action to protect our planet.”
Berta’s efforts are even more heroic when you consider what she knowingly faced: the amount of environmental activists that are killed in Honduras compared with its population makes it the most dangerous country in the world to take a stand for the environment. In 2014, 12 activists were killed.
Sadly, Berta too was killed in 2016 for her environmental work. Even though her life was tragically cut short, the legacy she left reminds us about the importance of standing up for what’s right and fighting for the rights of others, no matter what.