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Honduran activist Cáceres killed during home invasion, family claims 'assassination'

“They follow me and threaten to kidnap and kill me. They threaten my family. This is what we have to face," Cáceres said last year.
By Doug G. Ware   |   March 4, 2016 at 6:09 PM

LA ESPERANZA, Honduras, March 4 (UPI) -- An award-winning Honduran human rights and environmental activist -- who was threatened a week ago for her opposition to a hydroelectric dam project -- was shot dead in her home in what her family believes was an assassination.

Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores was gunned down in her La Esperanza, Honduras, residence early Thursday morning by multiple intruders -- perhaps as few as two but as many as 11, news reports said.

Honduran authorities initially said they are investigating the incident as a robbery homicide, but Cáceres' family and some acquaintances believe she was murdered as the result of her activist endeavors -- particularly a decade-long fight against plans to build the hydroelectric Agua Zarca Dam along the Gualcarque River, which is considered by some to be sacred ground.

"I have no doubt that she has been killed because of her struggle and that soldiers and people from the dam are responsible, I am sure of that," Cáceres' mother said. "I hold the government responsible."

Karen Spring, a friend of Cáceres, said the activist was shot at least four times.

"People here are still in shock that Berta is dead," she told The Guardian newspaper. "But they are very clear that they will continue their struggle to honor Berta."

Cáceres, 44, had won multiple awards for her activism, including the prestigious Shalom Award from the Society for Justice and Peace at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in 2012 and the Goldman Environmental Prize last year.

Repeated threats against Cáceres over the years prompted Honduran police to provide regular protection, but authorities said Friday, at the time of her death, Cáceres was not at the location she had specified to police as her home.

Gustavo Cáceres, the activist's brother who was wounded in the attack, said police failed in their protective obligations.

"The police were responsible for providing security for my sister here in the city," he said. "She wasn't hiding."

Police have said Cáceres was killed during a home invasion robbery, at 1 a.m. local time Thursday.

Last week, Cáceres participated in a demonstration against the dam project that resulted in the detaining of more than 100 protesters. The event also reportedly led to more threats of violence against Cáceres and her organization.

"Everyone is saying that the government or the company did it, but you'll never know," Silvio Carrillo, Cáceres' nephew, said. "It's the art of obfuscation."

Since 2009, numerous Honduran officials and activists -- including journalists, judges, labor leaders, human rights defenders and environmentalists -- have been assassinated for their roles in various activities.

The nation, which is regarded as perhaps the most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists, is notorious for its checkered human rights record -- a reputation Cáceres had specifically been fighting against.

"They follow me and threaten to kidnap and kill me," Cáceres said last year when she accepted the Goldman Environmental Prize. "They threaten my family. This is what we have to face."

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