After midnight on Thursday, March 3, indigenous environmental advocate Berta Cáceres was killed in Esperanza, in the department of Intibucá, Honduras.
She has long been active with the struggles for justice of the Lenca people. She has been outspoken in her opposition to environmental projects and policies that affect the lands and lives of indigenous people. She was also outspoken against the US-back 2009 coup.
I never met her. I have read about her. My sense is that she was a radical, one going to the roots of the problems.
But I know that the political, social, and economic elites (and some religious elites) that supported the coup to keep their power were very much in opposition to her and her accompanying the struggles of the indigenous in one of the poorest departments of the country.
Her most recent struggle was against a proposed dam that would affect a river that many Lenca hold sacred. Accompanying the people who were not consulted, she led them in their efforts to stop the project; it has not been stopped but one major investor withdrew.
The struggle for land, the struggle of the indigenous, the struggle for Mother Earth are sadly needed these days.
As Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si’, 2:
This sister [Sister Earth] now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22).
He also rightly sees that the concern for the earth must include concern for the poor (Laudato Si’, 49):
Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
Though he was writing primarily about water for drinking and human use, what Pope Francis wrote about multinationals is, I believe, relevant to the killing of Berta Cáceres, who was fighting against the concession of the River Gualcarque to a corporation:
it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century. (Laudato Si’, 31)
In the face of this, it is important to recall the words of Pope Francis in Bolivia at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, word which Berta Cáceres may have heard or read:
In conclusion, I would like to repeat: the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change. I am with you. Let us together say from the heart: no family without lodging, no rural worker without land, no laborer without rights, no people without sovereignty, no individual without dignity, no child without childhood, no young person without a future, no elderly person without a venerable old age. Keep up your struggle and, please, take great care of Mother Earth. I pray for you and with you, and I ask God our Father to accompany you and to bless you, to fill you with his love and defend you on your way by granting you in abundance that strength which keeps us on our feet: that strength is hope, the hope which does not disappoint….
That’s what Berta Cáceres fought for. May our mourning for her be turned into a joyful and hope-filled solidarity, where we struggle together for the earth and for the poor.
The photo from the wake of Berta Cáceres is from the Facebook page of Radio Progreso.