Seven years without Berta Cáceres, COPINH continues to demand justice

On the seventh anniversary of Berta Cáceres’ assassination, COPINH demanded that the government of President Xiomara Castro dismantle impunity and extractive industries

March 04, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Berta Cáceres was shot dead in her home in the city of La Esperanza by hitmen hired by DESA on March 2, 2016. Photo: Archives

March 2 marked seven years since the assassination of renowned Honduran environmental activist and Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres. Cáceres, who emerged as an important national leader following the 2009 coup d’état, was shot dead in her home in the city of La Esperanza by hitmen on March 2, 2016. Before her assassination, Berta had been victim to a campaign of persecution and threats for years, a response from repressive forces in the country to her resistance to the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on the sacred Gualcarque River. The dam was a hydroelectric project of the Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA) company.

The approval of the dam concession was pushed through without consulting the Indigenous Lenca people who lived there, in violation of the ILO Convention 169, which Honduras had ratified. In 2013, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), co-founded by Cáceres, began to lead a militant struggle against the Agua Zarca dam.

Along with COPINH, the Indigenous people of the Rio Blanco community organized a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site, and maintained a heavy but peaceful presence for over a year. The blockade withstood multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarized security contractors and the Honduran armed forces. Through their brave and sustained struggle, they were able to halt construction for over two years on the project. However, this resistance made Cáceres the target of persecution, criminalization, and attacks. On March 2, 2016, gunmen broke into her home and assassinated her after a prior assassination attempt in February had failed.

Following Cáceres’ assassination, COPINH waged a tireless struggle to achieve justice for their comrade and leader Berta Cáceres. After many years of legal battles, in June 2022, Roberto David Castillo, the former president of DESA and a US-trained former military intelligence officer, was sentenced to 22 years and six months in prison for his role in the assassination of Cáceres. Berta’s family and COPINH continue their struggle to demand that all those behind the brutal assassination be tried and brought to justice.

On Thursday, under the banner of “the 7th Anniversary of the planting of our comrade Berta Cáceres,” COPINH organized various events to commemorate her life and struggle. The organization held the screening of the documentary called “The Seeds of Berta,” about the struggle for justice for Berta after her assassination as well as the defense of the environment in Honduras: “They wanted to bury her, they didn’t know we were seeds and Berta multiplied in our hearts.” COPINH organized discussions on various community networks and called for the unity of people to continue sowing the seeds of resistance and justice.

COPINH demanded that the members of the powerful Atala-Zablah family, members of DESA’s board of directors and key shareholders, finally be brought to justice.

“One more year in which we reiterate and reaffirm our indeclinable struggle for justice for Berta, so that all those involved in her crime are prosecuted and punished. One more year in which we demand that the delinquents Jacobo, José Eduardo and Pedro Atala Zablah, together with Daniel Atala Midence, the instigators of this crime, be brought to justice to pay for their crimes. On this seventh anniversary, we reiterate that the impunity of the instigators, who continue to do business at the expense of the Honduran people, is a message that promotes the murder of other human rights and environmental defenders,” COPINH said.

The organization also demanded that the government of progressive President Xiomara Castro dismantle the impunity and the extractive industries that were imposed on the country following the 2009 coup.

“On this Berta’s day, we call on the government of President Xiomara Castro, and all organizations and institutions, to take advantage of the opportunity for justice that Berta Cáceres gives us, and move forward with decisive and powerful steps to dismantle the impunity of the criminal mafias that hold Honduras captive. The search for justice for Berta Cáceres necessarily implies the dismantling of the unjust extractivist system of the resources of Indigenous and campesino communities based on a development model that has proven useless to solve the problems of Honduras,” COPINH added.