David Castillo sentenced to 22.5-year jail term for assassination of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres

Members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, which was founded by Berta Cáceres, have said that true justice will not be delivered until the ‘intellectual authors’ of the crime are prosecuted and sentenced

June 23, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
The members of COPINH held a sit-in outside the Sentencing Court on June 20, demanding that other masterminds of the crime be arrested. Photo: COPINH/Twitter

On Monday, June 20, the First Chamber of the Sentencing Court of the Tegucigalpa City sentenced Roberto David Castillo, the former president of the Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) company and a US-trained former military intelligence officer, to 22 years and six months in prison for his role in the assassination of Indigenous Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres. The sentence comes almost a year after Castillo was found guilty of Cáceres’ murder and four postponements in the sentencing.

Cáceres was shot dead in her home in the city of La Esperanza by hitmen on March 2, 2016. She had been receiving threats for years due to her opposition to the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque River, a hydroelectric project that was being executed by DESA. She was a leader of the resistance to the construction of the dam, which restricted access to water to the Indigenous Lenca communities, jeopardized their traditional way of life, and threatened their ancestral land.

In 2017, a report presented by the International Advisory Group of Experts (GAIPE) established that some Honduran state agents and senior executives of DESA colluded in the “planning, execution and cover-up” of Cáceres’ murder. The GAIPE presented as evidence telephone records, online conversations, text messages, GPS reports and emails, which were extracted from mobile phones confiscated throughout the investigative process.

In 2018, the legal team of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), which was founded by Cáceres, presented before the court evidence that showed that Castillo used paid informants, as well as his military contacts and skills, to monitor Cáceres over the span of years, and then coordinated and planned her assassination. COPINH’s lawyers also provided evidence that linked Castillo to the hitmen and the financiers of the crime, the members of the powerful Atala-Zablah family.

Following the presentation of the evidence, Castillo was arrested on March 2, 2018, at the San Pedro Sula international airport, when he was trying to flee the country and board a plane to the United States. However, the members of the Atala-Zablah family, who were also members of the DESA’s board of directors and held key shares in the company, remain untouched by justice.

On Monday, members of COPINH held a sit-in outside the Sentencing Court and demanded that others responsible for the crime be arrested.

After the announcement of Castillo’s sentence, COPINH issued a statement, stressing that “the sentence of David Castillo does not satisfy the demand for justice of the Lenca people. The State of Honduras remains in debt.”

“There will be complete justice when the intellectual authors of the crime have been captured, prosecuted and sentenced. The investigations of international experts have shown that there is intellectual authorship in the murder of Berta Cáceres. This intellectual authorship is made up of the brothers Jacobo, José Eduardo, Pedro Atala Zablah and Daniel Atala Midence,” said COPINH.

COPINH indicated that it would present “concrete proposals to advance comprehensive justice for Berta Cáceres,” and would deliver them to the competent authorities, including the president, “with the aim of guaranteeing the rights of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition.”

On Tuesday, June 21, the members of COPINH demonstrated outside the National Congress and presented their proposals to the representatives. They also protested outside the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) and the BAC Credomatic Financial Institution, denouncing the Atala-Zablah family and demanding absolute justice for Cáceres.

The same day, Bertha Zúniga, one of Berta’s daughters and a member of COPINH, met with President Xiomara Castro to personally hand over to her the petitions for justice and respect for the rights of the Lenca People.

Castillo is the eighth person to be sentenced for killing Cáceres. In December 2019, seven former employees of DESA and serving members of the armed forces of Honduras, were convicted of Cáceres’ murder.