Berta Cáceres’ assassins are sentenced but true justice remains elusive

The seven people convicted of murdering Honduran social leader Berta Cáceres have received jail terms ranging between 30 and 34 years but those who planned and financed the crime remain free

December 04, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
Berta Cáceres
No one from the higher echelons of the company, DESA, has brought to trial so far.

On December 2, the Court of Judgment of the National Jurisdiction of Honduras announced the sentences of the seven people convicted of the murder of social leader and environmental activist Berta Cáceres.

Four of the seven – Elvin Rápalo, Óscar Torres, Edilson Duarte and Henry Javier Hernández – were sentenced to 34 years in prison for her murder and 16 more years for the attempted murder against Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro. The other three, Douglas Bustillo, Sergio Rodríguez and Mariano Díaz Chávez, were sentenced to 30 years in prison.

However, the social movements of Honduras, including the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), which was founded by Cáceres, said that true justice still has not been delivered. Bertha Zuñiga, the current coordinator of COPINH and Cáceres’ daughter, recalling the 45 months of struggle for justice, said, “There are convictions, but not justice. The intellectual authors of the murder continue to enjoy impunity, although it has been proven that the company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A (DESA) was responsible for killing her.” There was an order from the company to these people, who were simply pawns or hired people, she stressed.

Cáceres was in the forefront of opposition to the controversial Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, which was being executed by DESA. The dam restricted access to water to the Indigenous Lenca communities living in the surrounding areas of the Gualcarque river, jeopardized their traditional way of life and threatened their land. She was assassinated on March 2, 2016 at her house in the city of La Esperanza. Those convicted of the murder include former employees of the company and serving members of the armed forces of Honduras.

COPINH stressed on the need to continue demanding true justice for her as those involved in planning and financing the operation have not yet been brought to justice. These include members of the infamous and powerful Atala-Zablah family.

“Impunity does not end with the sentence to material authors. There is sufficient evidence to prosecute and punish members of Atala family and others for Berta Cáceres’ murder. The public ministry led by Oscar Chinchilla must stop making excuses to prosecute and request the trial of Daniel Atala Midence, José Eduardo Atala Zablah, Pedro Atala Zablah and Jacobo Atala Zablah, among others, for Berta Cáceres’ murder,” said COPINH in an official statement.

COPINH also demanded the establishment of an independent organization to carry out a fair trial. “The lack of justice in Honduras requires the establishment of an independent mission that carries out the procedure and puts those responsible for Berta Cáceres’ murder to trial. This sentence is the first crack in the wall of total impunity that sustains the criminal structure responsible for the crime, a result of the tenacity of the struggle carried out by COPINH, her family and national and international solidarity,” added COPINH.