Honduras: Five years after Berta Cáceres assassination, movements across globe demand justice

Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras in 2016. Photo: Peoples Dispatch / Website

Five years have passed since social leader and environmental activist Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home in La Esperanza, Honduras. 

Berta was the co-founder and coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and, following the coup d’état in 2009, emerged as an important national leader in the movement for the re-foundation of Honduras.

Before her assassination, Cáceres was subjected to a campaign of threats, intimidation, criminalisation and acts of physical violence by members of the Honduran security forces, as well as private security guards and employees of Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA). 

This was due to her active role in the resistance to the construction of the hydroelectric project Agua Zarca on the Gualcarque River that is sacred to the Indigenous Lenca people.

In the five years since her assassination, COPINH has waged a tireless struggle to achieve justice for their comrade and leader Berta. 

After a long drawn-out trial which even saw the exclusion of COPINH’s legal representation, seven people were convicted of participating in Cáceres’ murder in November 2018. 

The convictions and posterior sentences were hailed as a partial victory, but for the organisation, achieving justice goes far beyond the convictions of the hit-men paid to pull the trigger. They believe that justice involves bringing those to trial who were involved in planning and financing the operation, of which there is already evidence pointing to members of the powerful Atala-Zablah family, who held positions on the board of DESA as well as key shares in the company. 

Following the convictions, COPINH said justice must involve the trial and conviction of all those involved in “the plot of persecution, harassment and threats that brought about the assassination of Cáceres.”

As of now, the key advance towards reaching the upper echelons of DESA and untangling the criminal structure behind this assassination, was the arrest on March 2, 2018 of David Castillo former military intelligence officer and president of the DESA company. Castillo was arrested trying to flee the country for the United States where he bought a US$1.2 million house 8 months after Berta’s murder.

Records show Castillo coordinating with members of the Atala-Zablah family about Berta and manoeuvres to thwart COPINH’s determined resistance to the hydroelectric project. However, since his arrest, Castillo’s legal team filed numerous petitions to delay proceedings

The pandemic-imposed lockdown put this process in greater risk, especially given that his preventative detention was set to expire March 2, 2020. After 36 months, proceedings began in earnest on March 1. Following the proceedings, the court announced that, after 11 suspensions, Castillo’s trial is scheduled for April 6–30.

[Abridged from People’s Dispatch.]