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Honduran Indigenous Rights Leader, Berta Cáceres, Is Murdered


Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. The drug trade is responsible for much of that. But yesterday, there was a different victim. Berta Caceres was a Lenca Indian activist well-known in her country, shot in her home. She was not only known in Honduras, she was one of the world's best-known environmentalists and had recently opposed plans for a dam on a river considered sacred by the Lenca. Honduran police have said they are investigating the murder as a botched robbery, but many of her colleagues believe Caceres was targeted. We've got fellow activist Annie Bird on the line from Guatemala. She knew Berta Caceres for many years. Welcome to the program.

ANNIE BIRD: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Now, she was, it must be said, receiving death threats for quite some time. How seriously would she have taken that, and why do you think this did happen just now at this moment in time?

BIRD: Well, she had been receiving death threats for the entire time that I knew her, really, but in recent months particularly, the threats had become more worrisome for her. And she had expressed that she felt that it was likely that she could be killed. I think it's very clear, this dam that was being built - the work on the dam was advancing rapidly or is advancing rapidly right now, and I think tensions have grown as that's happened.

MONTAGNE: And tensions, exactly, with whom?

BIRD: So the dam is a privately-owned energy generation project, one of dozens that are being developed around the country and that were given in concession to private companies following the 2009 military coup. So it benefits private investors and is taking away resources from indigenous communities.

MONTAGNE: Is there anything coming out or known about those who would be directly suspected of killing her?

BIRD: Well, the organization that she works with, COPIHN, feels very strongly that this - her killing was related to the dam project. Armed men broke down her door in the middle of the night and shot her and left, so there's not really another motive. And she had been under extreme attack by the company for months leading up - ridicule on the media, subject to constant threats in front of Honduran security forces.

MONTAGNE: What does this high-profile murder mean for other environmentalists or for workers in Honduras who are working with - for indigenous rights?

BIRD: Well, it sends a message around the country. Berta was so well-known, so well-loved throughout Honduras and internationally. And people are pouring in from around the country to her funeral tomorrow and internationally. And, you know, people see that if they can kill Berta in this way, they could kill anyone who's working for the same causes that she was working for. So it has a terrifying impact. But it also enrages and motivates people to continue to work for social justice.

MONTAGNE: Annie Bird is a long-time activist and friend of indigenous rights leader Berta Caceres. She was murdered yesterday. She would have turned 45 years old today. Thank you for joining us.

BIRD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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