With mandates from local community members at every step of the way, Cáceres began mounting a campaign against the Agua Zarca Dam. She filed complaints with government authorities, bringing along community representatives on trips to Tegucigalpa. She organized a local assembly where community members formally voted against the dam, and led a protest where people peacefully demanded their rightful say in the project.
The campaign also reached out to the international community, bringing the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and lodging appeals against the project’s funders such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank.
Ignoring these appeals, the national government and local mayors forged ahead. They doctored minutes from a community meeting to paint a false picture of unanimous approval for the dam, and offered cash to local people in exchange for their signature on documents declaring their support.
In April 2013, Cáceres organized a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site. Using a carefully organized system of alerts to keep everyone in the loop, the Lenca people maintained a heavy but peaceful presence, rotating out friends and family members for weeks at a time. For well over a year, the blockade withstood multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarized security contractors and the Honduran armed forces.
Honduras’ violent climate is well known to many, but few understand that environmental and human rights activists are its victims. Tomas Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, discredited, detained, and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.
Against these odds, Cáceres and the Lenca community’s efforts successfully kept construction equipment out of the proposed dam site. In late 2013, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA, publicly citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Tomas’ death. Agua Zarca suffered another blow when the IFC withdrew its funding, citing concerns about human rights violations. To date, construction on the project has effectively come to a halt.
Death threats to Cáceres continued until March 3, 2016, when she was killed by gunmen in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. Her death, followed by the killing of her colleague and fellow COPINH member Nelson García just 12 days later, sparked international outrage. Dutch development bank FMO and FinnFund have since suspended their involvement in the Agua Zarca project.
A Honduran court ruled in 2018 that executives of DESA ordered the killing of Cáceres. Seven men were found guilty of the murder and sentenced to 30 to 50 years. The president of DESA has been arrested and the case is ongoing. Cáceres’ family continues to seek justice through a thorough investigation of the intellectual authors of her murder. COPINH and fellow activists continue her enduring legacy, fighting irresponsible development and standing up for the rights of the Lenca people in Honduras.