The daughter of the murdered Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres has survived an armed attack, just weeks after being named leader of the indigenous rights organisation formerly led by her mother.
Bertha Zuñiga, 26, was attacked along with two other members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Copinh) as they drove back from a community visit in central Honduras on Friday.
Three assailants tried to attack the Copinh members with machetes after a black pickup truck forced them to stop by blocking the road. They managed to escape, but came under renewed attack as the driver of the pickup tried to force their vehicle off the cliff-edge road.
Zuñiga, the second of Cáceres’s four children, was travelling with Sotero Chavarría and Asunción Martíne, who are members of Copinh’s leadership committee.
The group escaped unharmed but the incident has again heightened fears about the violence against human rights defenders in Honduras.
Cáceres was shot dead in her home in March 2016 after years of intimidation and deaths threats linked to her activism. Her friend who was with her during the attack, the Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro, survived by pretending to be dead. Cáceres fought to defend the ancestral land rights of the Lenca people from big mining, dam-building and logging projects. Her murder brought international condemnation, but the violence has continued. Two of her colleagues – Nelson García and Lesbia Urquia – have been murdered since her death; several others have survived assassination attempts.
The latest attack took place around 2.30pm on Friday, not long after the Copinh delegation left Cancire, a small rural community in the Santiago de Puringla municipality of La Paz.
Copinh believes the attacks could be connected to a dispute over access to a local water source for Cancire and surrounding villages. The Zazagua hydroelectric dam has led to water shortages in the area, which has generated conflict between neighbouring communities.
The incident has been reported to authorities, but no arrests have so far been made.
Cáceres co-founded Copinh with her former husband 24 years ago. While best known for her environmental work, she was also a staunch defender of women’s and LGBT rights.
She was set to stand for vice-president on an independent ticket when the country was thrown into chaos by a military-backed coup in July 2009.
The subsequent rightwing government initiated a range of pro-business policies, sanctioning hundreds of licences for environmentally destructive projects in rural areas without any prior consultation with communities.
At least 124 environmental and land activists have been murdered in Honduras since the coup, making it the most dangerous country in the world in which to defend natural resources, according to the anti-graft NGO Global Witness.
Cáceres was murdered a few months after winning the prestigious Goldman Environmental prize for her opposition to one of the region’s biggest hydroelectric projects, four dams in the Gualcarque river basin, which is sacred to the Lencas.
Eight men have so far been detained for her murder, including three with links to the military and two with ties to the dam company Desarrollos Energéticos.
Cáceres’s name had appeared on a military hitlist, along with those of dozens of other activists, according to a Guardian investigation published last year.
- This article was amended on 5 July 2017 to clarify the age of Bertha Zuñiga.