Organizations condemn bid to derail Berta Cáceres’ case

On September 25, the preliminary hearing was scheduled to begin against David Castillo, one of the people accused of planning the murder of Berta Cáceres

September 25, 2019 by Media Coordination in Solidarity with COPINH
COPINH and the family of Berta Cáceres have fought tirelessly to bring those responsible for her assassination to justice.

This article was written by the Media Coordination in Solidarity with COPINH(*) as a collective effort in solidarity with the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and the family of Berta Cáceres as they struggle tirelessly against the systematic corruption and impunity in the Honduran justice system and to bring those responsible for her brutal assassination to justice.

Today, Wednesday September 25, the legal process against David Castillo, accused of participating in the planning of the assassination of Honduran Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, was scheduled to resume in the National Court in the capital, Tegucigalpa. However, Castillo’s defense had requested that the hearing be postponed, without providing any argument of why they could not attend, and late on Tuesday September 24, the judge overseeing the case accepted their petition.

The move was denounced by Cáceres’ organization, COPINH who deemed it “an action by the defense to further delay the process against Castillo and another attempt to prevent truth and justice for our comrade Berta Cáceres from being achieved.”

Castillo was detained on March 2, 2018 as an ‘intellectual author’, which refers to participation in the planning, coordinating and financing, in the assassination of Berta Cáceres. Castillo served as a high-level executive in the company Desarrollos Energéticos, S.A. (DESA) which is the main stakeholder in the hydroelectric project Agua Zarca.

Cáceres with her organization COPINH and the local community were leading a fierce battle against the construction of Agua Zarca that was proposed to be built on the Gualcarque River which is sacred for the Lenca people. The project has had financing from diverse international banks and institutions like the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO), FinnFund, SinoHydro (China), FICOHSA Bank, World Bank and USAID, among others. As such their resistance to the project received a very strong response from the company and the Honduran state.

Both the members of the community and the members of COPINH, especially Berta, were met with a campaign of surveillance, intimidation, harassment, threats, violence, and criminalization by state security forces, private security of the company and armed individuals paid by the company. This violence was denounced to the Honduran State and distinct international entities on various occasions, but the necessary measures to stop it were never taken as it was ‘necessary’ in order to advance with the project. It is within this context that Berta Cáceres was assassinated on March 2, 2016 in her house in the city La Esperanza, in the department of Intibucá in the northeast of Honduras.

From the moment of her assassination, the Berta Cáceres cause -which now consists of at least 13 legal cases- has been characterized by irregularities, violations to due process, harassment of the defense, the organization and family members of Berta, and in general a lack of will by the institutions of the State to reach the true justice.

In November last year, 7 people were convicted who were accused of participating in the assassination of Berta as ‘material authors’, or the people who physically executed the crime. While COPINH and other organizations celebrated these convictions as fruit of their struggle for justice, they also denounced that the State attempted to close the Berta Cáceres cause with these convictions and leave out the powerful structure that planned and financed the crime.

Furthermore, throughout the trial, the judges almost systematically denied every fact, piece of evidence, witness or expert report that sought to link the intellectual authors, like members of the Atala Zablah family, to the assassination and contextualize her assassination as part of a strategy of repression by the company Desarrollos Energéticos, S.A. (DESA). At the same time the judges in the case excluded the legal defense of the victims from the trial and denied the recognition of COPINH as a victim in the case. And now, nearly ten months later, they have still not sentenced the seven who were convicted. This is why the process against David Castillo is so important.

Who is David Castillo?

Castillo, a career military officer, graduated from the US military school “West Point” and served as Second Lieutenant of Military Intelligence of the Honduran Armed Forces. He also worked as president of the Administrative Council and legal representative of DESA since 2011.

In the report “Violence, Corruption & Impunity in the Honduran Energy Industry: A Profile of Roberto David Castillo Mejía” written by international organizations Due Process of Law Foundation, International Platform Against Impunity, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, and Guatemala Human Rights Commission, they point out that Castillo was not only part of the planning and coordination of the assassination of Berta, but he is involved in a series of criminal activities including corruption and fraud while he was a public servant and grave human rights violations.

After a careful investigation, the report affirms that the criminal activities carried out by Castillo were presumably carried out to promote the interests of the companies that he was associated with. Apparently, they sustain, several companies have benefited from the alleged crimes; the crimes committed to benefit the DESA company and companies related to DESA are particularly grave. However, the report noted that they faced challenges to identify the diverse companies that benefited from the crimes as they were unable to access information about several companies and, as several are registered in Panama, they are protected by laws which guarantee anonymity of the property registered to the companies.

Castillo was director, shareholder, or executive, of at least eight companies, six of which were established in Honduras. At least two companies associated with Castillo were registered in Panama where the anonymity of the shareholders is also protected: Mithril Capital y Potencia and Energía de Mesoamérica SA PEMSA (Panama). As such the extent of Castillo’s criminal activities is still unknown, though he is already under formal investigation for corruption and fraud.

With regards to the crime of Berta Cáceres, the evidence presented to the Honduran Courts by the prosecutors suggests that Castillo participated in the assassination as an intellectual author, allegedly coordinating and distributing funds to the hit men in order to carry out the assassination. Castillo is has been accused and is currently in preventative imprisonment but the case remains in the preliminary phase and in six months if the trial has not taken place he will be released. As of now, no other intellectual author of the crime has been arrested. Castillo is the fundamental piece that links those who shot and those who paid them to shoot.

This crime was part of a pattern of violence, corruption, intimidation, malicious criminalization, violence and impunity orchestrated by Castillo and other people at the DESA company, who appear to have functioned like a criminal structure.

“We hope that with this hearing, we will finally advance to the trial and that in this trial we are able to carry out an investigation to all of the intellectual authors of the assassination like the Atala Zablah family that we know well from the organizations that it is them who paid and ordered for this crime” explained Suli Madariaga, a member of COPINH.

During the first trial for the assassination of Berta Cáceres in 2018 the evidence suggested that Castillo and his associates, along with the employees of DESA, obtained the support of key institutions of the Honduran government, using his influences in the Ministry of Security, the police, and army as inappropriate influences in the Honduran judicial power. This with the aim of goal to intimidate, persecute and neutralize Berta Cáceres and the opposition of COPINH to the hydroelectric project Agua Zarca, DESA and the representatives, which continues today even after her assassination.

COPINH and the family of Cáceres have publicly denounced that eight months after the assassination of Berta, Castillo bought a luxury house worth 1.4 million dollars in Houston, Texas, they believe that it is not a coincidence. Recently, the daughters and son of Cáceres presented a lawsuit before a federal court in the US in order to access the financial records of Castillo from the bank that gave him the mortgage. They believe that these records will have some information about the financial motives behind the crime and information about who is involved.

Despite the convincing proof that link Castillo to the crime, his defense, with the support of the corporate media in Honduras “have waged a campaign that seeks to victimize David Castillo and delegitimize the legal proceedings against him, questioning the evidence that links him to the assassination and attempting to justify his innocence with a narrative absolutely perverse and revictimizing,” denounced COPINH.

With this they seek to guarantee the impunity of David Castillo and obstruct the search for true justice where “all of the people responsible for the assassination of Berta and for the systematic aggression perpetrated against COPINH, including not only David Castillo but the Atala Zablah family, the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO), state functionaries, members of the armed forces, financers and more” would be judged and sanctioned.

“We hope for the support of all of the organizations that have been part and that want to be part of this process for the search for justice of our sister Berta Cáceres that is the comrade of all of us,” said Suli Maradiaga. She affirmed “even though we know that Justice in reality is not in these Courts we want to break the chain of impunity that we suffer from in Honduras.”

For Maradiaga, this process of struggle and justice for Berta Cáceres in Honduras could serve as a precedent for the current situation of criminalization and repression, “in a country where nothing ever happens, where the people who defend the territories and struggle for life are criminalized and when a crime happens against them it is not investigated and it remains in impunity, it is very important that a process with these characteristics is taking place.”

Justice for Berta, can bring justice for all the people in struggle

Carolina Hernández, another member of COPINH, requested that all of the people and organizations that feel moved by the crime against Berta Cáceres, stand in solidarity. “We ask them to accompany us, support us and be present in the different moments that we are experiencing with this case, principally in the search for true and comprehensive justice for which we the people will continue resisting and fighting for.” COPINH has also called on organizations to carry out different actions to raise awareness to the case in the media, outside embassies, and on social media to put pressure on different institutions of the Honduran state.

For Hernández, “this process also seeks to guarantee rights and break the chain of impunity that is maintained in Honduras with different attacks, assassinations and femicides of comrades…achieving justice for Berta can achieve justice for all the people in struggle”.

Madariaga reiterated that “as COPINH we join together and embrace hope in the search for justice for Berta Cáceres. Because Justice for Berta means justice for Honduras. In a country so impacted by impunity, corruption and violence, we hope that from here a change in the system can begin.”

(*) Media Coordination in Solidarity with COPINH: ALBA TV – Venezuela, Colombia Informa – Colombia, Marcha Noticias – Argentina, Notas Periodismo Popular – Argentina, Noticiero Barrio Adentro – Colombia, Peoples Dispatch, Resumen Latinoamericano – Argentina – América Latina