On March 3rd, Berta Cáceres, the co-founder of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras, COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), was murdered in her home. Berta, an indigenous Lenca woman and recipient of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was a tireless advocate for indigenous land, water, and resource rights. But beyond being an advocate, she took that crucial next step: to be a leader. She co-founded a rights-based organization; she inspired, organized, listened to and raised the voices of others; she took the risk of being out in front. That step is what made Berta special and what made the impact of her work and legacy immeasurable.
EcoLogic did not work directly with Berta or her organization. But her death shook us. It still shakes us. It puts front and center the risks that our partners in Mexico and Central America take on a daily basis in their efforts to protect nature and its life-giving resources. The local organizations, leaders, and communities we work with (not to mention our field staff) truly take a stand: they raise awareness about the negative impacts of illegal logging in critical watersheds; they advocate for more sustainable fishing practices and community managed “no take zones” ; they make sure communities are afforded their right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent in the emerging carbon market. All too often we can lose sight of just how bold these actions truly are. Bolder than we realize.
The murder of Berta reminds us—forces us—to not take these efforts and their inherent risks for granted. And to honor the true heroes of conservation: the local leaders who embody the hopes and dreams of their communities and put their own reputations, relationships, and even lives at risk for others and for nature. It is our duty in the international NGO, donor, and environmentalist community to recognize, broadcast, support, and protect these leaders.
For this reason, EcoLogic joined the over 220 organizations calling for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to support an independent investigation into Berta’s murder. We denounce the use of violence and fear to silence the voices of indigenous peoples and leaders. They are best positioned to protect the invaluable biodiversity and resources of tropical ecosystems. If nature is to be protected, so must be our indigenous brothers and sisters.