Protests erupt at memorial for slain Honduran activist

March 4, 2016
TEGUCIGALPA — Mourners broke into protest Friday at a memorial service for slain Honduran indigenous activist Berta Cáceres, a renowned environmentalist whose family has labeled her killing an assassination.

More than 1,000 people gathered as Cáceres’ coffin was turned over to her family at a labor union headquarters, erupting into shouts of “Justice!”

The latest protest came less than a day after demonstrators clashed with riot police in the capital Tegucigalpa following news that Cáceres had been shot dead in the early hours of Thursday at her home in the western town of La Esperanza.

Cáceres, a 43-year-old mother of four, rose to prominence for leading the indigenous Lenca people in a struggle against a hydroelectric dam project that would flood large areas of native lands and cut off water supplies to hundreds.

She persevered in her activism despite receiving numerous death threats, winning the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, considered the world’s top award for grassroots environmental activism.

Her killing has drawn international condemnation, including from the United Nations, the United States and many environmental activists.

Even Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio joined in: “Incredibly sad news out ofHonduras,” he wrote on Twitter. “We should all honor the brave contributions of Cáceres.”

The activist’s family has accused authorities of trying to mask her death as a random murder, insisting that she was assassinated because of her activism against environmental destruction by large mining and hydroelectric companies.

The organization Cáceres co-founded, the Civic Council of Indigenous and People’s Organizations (COPINH), meanwhile said other members had received death threats from self-described hitmen allegedly hired by energy company DESA, whose hydroelectric project the group is fighting.

“In the past six months Berta had been the target of constant, intensifying threats, shots fired on her car, and verbal and written threats from the army, the police, the mayor [in the project site] and DESA,” the organization added.

Cáceres body was being transported Friday from the capital back to La Esperanza, where she was to be buried Saturday.

Activist groups from seven different indigenous ethnicities said their members would march at the burial to demand justice.

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