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Award-Winning Honduran Environmentalist Gunned Down

  • Ken Schwartz

Demonstrators protest the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres in La Esperanza, 200 km northwest of Tegucigalpa, on March 3, 2016.

Demonstrators protest the murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres in La Esperanza, 200 km northwest of Tegucigalpa, on March 3, 2016.

An international award-winning Honduran indigenous leader who fought against a potentially destructive dam was murdered Thursday in her home in La Esperanza.

Berta Caceres, a Lenca Indian activist, was winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize.

At least two gunmen shot her to death in what appears to be a targeted killing. Police have one person in custody, but his identity is unclear.

The Honduran government had assigned special protection for Caceres because of numerous death threats, but security surrounding her and her home had apparently been lax.

"The cowardly killing of Berta is a tragedy that was waiting to happen. For years, she had been the victim of a sustained campaign of harassment and threats to stop her from defending the rights of indigenous communities," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

Caceres, a 43-year-old teacher, fought against construction of the Agua Zarca Dam on the Gualcarque River — a waterway the Lenca consider sacred.

Activists argue the dam will destroy the lives of hundreds of Lenca by cutting off their access to the river. The future of the project is unclear.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said Caceres' murder has caused mourning across the country. He has ordered security forces to find those responsible.

U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, James Nealon, says the United States "strongly condemns this despicable crime" and calls on Honduran authorities to bring down the full force of the law on the killers.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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