March 14 is a day of action, and a day to celebrate the rivers we love. This year it must also be a day to celebrate those who love rivers, and a day to take action to make sure our movement’s sacrifices have not been in vain.
If you’ve been following International Rivers’ news updates, you’ll know that on March 2, Berta Cáceres—Honduran anti-dam activist, Goldman Prize winner, and longtime partner to International Rivers—was assassinated. While we may never know exactly what transpired on that awful day, it’s likely that she was killed to silence her effective and passionate activism. As co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH)—a group that led campaigns against dams, illegal loggers and plantation owners—Berta was a high profile indigenous leader, and had received threats over many years. Her murder has unleashed protests in Honduras and widespread condemnation internationally. Take a moment to add your voice, and demand justice for Berta.
Berta joins an all-too-long list of dam activists whose lives have been cut short, and an even longer list of river defenders who’ve been jailed or beaten, had their rights violated, their communities and families threatened or abused. In the often oppressive political environments that give rise to large dams, there is little tolerance for community organizing or opposition to such projects. Time after time, we see big dam projects constrain democracy and civil liberties the same way they constrain rivers: with brute force and walls of secrecy.
Over the 20 years I worked for International Rivers, I came to know many remarkable, dedicated activists who knew that if their river was dammed, their community and the environment they depended on would suffer. And so they put their lives on the line and took on powerful forces, doing what it takes to get politically unconnected peoples’ voices heard in high places, and their concerns addressed. So many people have shown such incredible bravery in this movement to protect rivers.
But not every threatened community is able to take such actions. For many, the risks are too great, local resources too stretched, the government too aggressive in its squashing of opposition. In such places, one of the first things to go is often a free press. In such places, should someone be murdered, “disappeared,” jailed or beaten for their opposition to a dam or similar environmental insult, there is little chance we’d see the kind of media coverage that Berta’s death has brought.
Our rivers need us to speak out for them. And our friends who’ve died, and their families, deserve our loving recognition, and a day of remembrance.
So please make time on March 14 to celebrate the Day of Action, and to commemorate those who have given their all in the defense of rivers. Light a candle for them, and for the rivers we’ve lost as well. And vow to support the effort to protect the rivers that keep this watery planet healthy and green.
We are many, and together we’re as strong as the Amazon, the Mekong, the Rio Blanco, the Omo and the Zambezi. A luta continua!