Five years have passed since 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, had emerged as an important national leader in the movement for the re-foundation of Honduras.
Before her assassination, Cáceres had been subjected to a campaign of threats, intimidation, criminalization, and acts of physical violence by members of the Honduran security forces, as well as private security guards and employees of the Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) company. 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 these five years since her assassination, COPINH has waged a tireless struggle to achieve justice for their comrade and leader Berta. In November 2018, after a long drawn-out trial which even saw the exclusion of COPINH’s legal representation, seven people were convicted of participating in the murder of social leader and environmental activist Berta Cáceres. The convictions and posterior sentences were hailed as a partial victory, but for the organization, achieving justice goes far beyond the convictions of the hit-men that were 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 of pointing to the 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 in November 2018, COPINH had said that 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 Berta Cáceres.”
As of now, the key advance towards reaching the upper echelons of the DESA company 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 when he was trying to flee the country for the United States where he bought a USD 1.2 million house 8 months after Berta’s murder.
Records show Castillo coordinating with members of the Atala-Zablah family about Berta and maneuvers to thwart COPINH’s determined resistance to the hydroelectric project. However, since his arrest, Castillo’s legal team filed numerous petitions to the court in order to delay the proceedings. The pandemic-imposed lockdown put this process in greater risk, especially given that his preventative detention was set to expire March 2, 2020. Yesterday, March 1, after 36 months, proceedings began in earnest with the evidentiary hearing. Following the proceedings the court announced that after 11 suspensions, the trial of David Castillo is scheduled for April 6-30, 2021.
International cry for justice
As COPINH and Berta’s family mark five years without her physical presence, they have invited people from across the world to join them in their reiterated demands for justice. “We commemorate 5 years since the siembra (planting) of our comrade Berta Cáceres, 5 years of fighting against impunity and injustice in Honduras, 5 years of confronting powerful economic and political sectors that have attempted to steal justice out of our hands, but at the same time, they are 5 years of building ties of solidarity between comrades of struggle that have accompanied the demand for justice, 5 years walking with Berta in the construction of processes of emancipation and autonomy for the people,” COPINH wrote.
In this regard they have called for an international campaign on social media platforms beginning at 9:00h Honduras, to “demand that the Honduran authorities promptly investigate all perpetrators of the crime and ensure that David Castillo’s trial proceeds without delay.” They have called on people across the globe to use the hashtag #JusticiaParaBerta (Justice for Berta) as well as #CastigoALosAtala (Punishment for the Atalas) and #5AñosJuntoABerta (5 years with Berta). They have also called on people to tag the Honduran state entities involved in the case including the Judicial Power (@PJdeHonduras), Public Prosecutor’s Office (@MP_Honduras), the Human Rights Secretary (@sedhHonduras), and the Secretary of Governance and Justice (@sgjd_honduras).
At night, COPINH will livestream a virtual concert “Justice for Berta” with artists from Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba, Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, Uruguay, the UK, and Spain, including Roger Waters, Andrea Echeverri, and Rebecca Lane.
On March 3, a forum will be held titled “Indigenous People against Corruption,” and on March 4 COPINH is calling on people globally to plant a tree in honor of Berta. COPINH hopes to revive the international cries for justice in Berta’s case ahead of the trial of David Castillo which will be even more crucial than the trial of the 7 who were convicted of executing the assassination. Castillo is the link to those who planned and financed the murder and as such, as with this whole process, it will be an arduous struggle.
In the trial held in November 2018, Laura Zúniga, one of Berta’s daughters and a member of COPINH, gave a victim’s impact statement reflecting on the struggle for justice and why the family and the organization has remained resolute: “From the moment my mom was murdered, we were excluded from the process, and we don’t agree with it. We don’t agree with being denied the possibility of having an observer present during my mom’s autopsy, of not receiving information. We’ve had to fight for information at every moment, every step of the way. We didn’t do it on a whim, we did it because we are prepared to do everything necessary to get to the truth because we understand that it’s our right, because we understand that it’s the right of the Honduran people, because we want to establish precedents for justice.”