Berta Cáceres stands at the banks of the Gualcarque River in western Honduras. Cáceres, along with the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and the people of Rio Blanco, have fought to halt the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric project, which threatens the local environment and indigenous Lenca people from the region. Photo Tim Russo

Environmental activist Berta Cáceres of the indigenous Lenca nation, was assassinated in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras March 3, 2016 by armed gunman. Cáceres, who was one of six 2015 recipients of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, worked tirelessly to defend her people’s ancestral homeland against the powerful multi-national logging and mining industries.

In 2011 Cáceres along with the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) defended the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to the Lenca people, against the creation of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam.

Berta Cáceress in the Rio Blanco region with members of COPINH during a meeting remembering community members killed during the two-year struggle. Photo Tim Russo

“For the last 500 years we have been fighting in defense of our land, in defense of water,” she told El Tecolote in 2015. “The Lenca are people of the water, of corn, and rivers are sacred to us. The Lenca consider an aggression against the river as an aggression against the people.”

Cáceres said she had received multiple death threats and had to obtain a legal document outlining what to do with the prize money should she be killed.

“In a country like Honduras … this is something that is probable, not some far-off thought—death swirls very closely.”

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights included her on its 2009 list of “people under threat” during the 2009 coup. The following day it issued precautionary measures in defense of her and other activists, while acknowledging reports that military forces had surrounded her home.

Cáceres was a key leader against the coup, which ousted president Manuel Zelaya.

As of press time, there is a campaign to free Gustavo Castro Soto, the Mexican environmentalist and coordinator for Friends of the Earth Mexico, who witnessed Cáceres’ assassination. He sustained two bullet wounds, and continues to be detained by the Honduran government. Many have expressed fear for Soto’s safety in Honduras.

Honduras is one of the most dangerous places in the world for environmental activism; according to the nonprofit NGO (non-governmental organization) Global Witness, 12 environmentalists have been murdered there since 2014.