Congratulations Berta Ceres and COPINH, 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winner

Congratulations Berta Ceres and COPINH, 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winner

Congratulations Berta Ceres and COPINH, 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winner

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We are excited to announce that the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America has been awarded to Berta Cáceres, the indigenous co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known as COPINH. Friends of the Earth congratulates Berta and COPINH for their bold and visionary efforts to stem the tide of destructive development under the gravest threats facing any environmental defenders today.

The Goldman Environmental Prize was awarded to Cáceres and COPINH after a years-long fight to pressure the world’s largest dam builder, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, to pull out of construction of a complex of large dams known as Agua Zarca. If built, the 20 meter-tall dam project, would destroy the natural resources on which the local indigenous population depends. Like literally hundreds of other dam, mining, and other large infrastructure projects under consideration throughout Central America, the Agua Zarca project has been imposed without the consent of the affected communities. Also like so many other mega-projects, the communities in resistance to Agua Zarca have been subject to violence, arrests and intimidation, and even murder.

Honduras, in the heart of Central America, is a country plagued by “the resource curse.” Its rich forests invite exploitation by logging interests; its mineral wealth is sought by mining interests; its rushing rivers invite big dams, and its fertile coastal plains are ideal for the industrial cultivation of agricultural commodities like palm oil, bananas, and beef. Honduras is also the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere. With its rich resources at stake, Honduran environmental defenders like Berta and COPINH are frequently the targets of this violence.

For over two decades, COPINH’s leadership in defending the lands and peoples of Honduras has earned it countless popular victories. At the same time, the group’s resistance to development megaprojects like dams, mines and forestry concessions has drawn the ire of loggers, dam-builders and palm oil interests.

Since the early 90’s, COPINH has forced the cancellation of dozens of logging operations; created several protected forest areas; developed municipal forest management plans; and secured over 100 collective land titles for indigenous communities, in some cases encompassing entire municipalities. The Sinohydro victory in the Agua Zarca campaign is just the most recent in this long list of achievements.

“This award, and the international attention it brings comes at a challenging time for us,” Berta told a small crowd gathered this weekend to welcome her to California, where the first of two prize ceremonies will take place. “The situation in Honduras is getting worse. When I am in Washington later this week to meet with US government officials, the President of Honduras will be in the very next room hoping to obtain more than $1 billion for a series of mega-projects being advanced by the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States — projects that further threaten to put our natural resources into private hands through mines, dams and large wind projects. This is accompanied by the further militarization of the country, including new ultra-modern military bases they are installing right now.”

Around the world, the frontlines of environmental defense are peopled by bold and visionary social movements like COPINH and by grassroots community organizers like Berta Cáceres.

“In order to fight the onslaught of dams, mines, and the privatization of all of our natural resources, we need international solidarity,”Berta told her supporters in the U.S. “When we receive your solidarity, we feel surrounded by your energy, your hope, your conviction, that together we can construct societies with dignity, with life, with rebellion, with justice, and above all, with joy.”

In fighting the destructive environmental and social impacts that too often accompany economic development, we need to heed Berta’s call, and do all we can to recognize and support the peasant farmers, Indigenous Peoples and social movements who put their lives on the line daily to turn the tide towards a model of development that prioritizes people over profits and dignity before destruction.

Learn more about Berta Cáceres and COPINH here, and in the below video celebrating her Goldman Prize award.

Congratulations to Berta Cáceres and COPINH for the bold achievements and fierce commitment that won them the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize!

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