On Monday, December 2, seven people who were convicted of assassinating Honduran social leader Berta Cáceres will be sentenced. Cáceres, who was in the forefront of opposition to the controversial Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, was assassinated on March 2, 2016 at her house in the city La Esperanza in the northeast of Honduras. The project was being executed by the company Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA), whose former employees will be among those sentenced on Monday, along with serving members of the armed forces of Honduras.
However, DESA’s culpability does not end there. The court already declared that the executives of DESA had knowledge of and gave their consent to carry out the assassination of Berta and it also referred to the participation of other people in the crime. The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), an Indigenous Lenca organization founded by Berta Cáceres, which today continues the struggle for true justice, hopes that the sentence will also include what the court already mentioned during the conviction. In principle, the court now has the responsibility to order more investigations to arrest those who paid for, organized and authorized the assassination.
The court, in the sentence, has the responsibility of determining the responsibility of each convicted person on a case-by-case basis, as well as order new investigations based on the information that came out during the trial. This includes the role of those who ordered and paid for the assassination. While the attorney general’s office has publicly announced on repeated occasions that they are still carrying out investigations in the case, as of now, they have not issued arrest warrants against any of the masterminds and financers of the crime apart from David Castillo. Castillo was arrested in March 2018 and has been in preventive custody for the past year-and-a-half. However, his case has not been brought to trial yet.
Peoples Dispatch and Marcha spoke to Bertha Zúniga, the current coordinator of COPINH and daughter of Berta Cáceres, on this new stage of the legal process and the possible outcomes.
Why is this sentence important for COPINH?
The sentence points to the guilt of the people who were directly involved in carrying out the assassination, but it also expresses that this crime had to do with the interests of the DESA company, of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project. It also indicates that there was a direct order from there to these [seven] people who were simply pawns, people who were hired. It also states that Berta Cáceres was assassinated for her struggle.
This is why the sentence is important because it not only judges these seven people but it also opens the door to other people responsible within the company. So the state has to commit to continuing and not close the case just to give some sort of result after almost four years of demanding that some people or members of a criminal structure are identified due to their responsibility for this tragic crime.
Why did it take so long for the sentence to be announced?
The sentence was delayed because supposedly they were resorting to some appeals. However, throughout this whole process, there has been a series of irregularities and disrespect, including with regard to the time periods established by Honduran law. They are simply going against the path of justice and in favor of impunity. We know that the road does not end here but there is an immense debt to true justice and that delaying and slowing down the process has been the strategy of the state to take off pressure from the cause for justice.
Some of the irregularities in the case include not accepting evidence, not including expert reports that implicate the responsibility of other individuals beyond those who pulled the trigger, and that link the crime carried out by these individuals to the political will of the criminal structure to assassinate Berta Cáceres and assassinate her struggle.
Have there been any progress on the arrests of people involved in the financing and planning of the crime?
There is only one case open – which has also been extremely delayed – and that is of David Castillo, the president of the company. However, for us, David Castillo is a minor and in fact, the weakest representative of the powerful people that took the decision and economically lent support to this crime. That is why one of our petitions and demands is the arrest of the maximum responsible people, and there is already evidence which links some and with others, some type of participation with names and the role they played within the criminal structure has already been publicly determined.
The Sentencing Court of the Supreme Court of Justice of Honduras announced that it will read the sentence at 1:30pm Honduran time. COPINH has called for a rally outside the court house in order to demand once again, true and comprehensive justice for Berta.