Crime & Justice

Berta Caceres’ family dissatisfied with sentence for her killer

Tegucigalpa, Jun 20 (EFE).- The sentence handed down on Monday against Roberto David Castillo for the March 2016 murder of Honduran environmentalist Berta Caceres is a “small victory” but “does not satisfy” her family, and thus they still consider the Honduran state to owe them and their loved one something.

“The sentence against … Castillo does not satisfy the demands of justice of the Lenca people. The Honduran state still owes us,” said Bertha Zuñiga, the daughter of the dead ecologist.

Castillo, an executive with the Desarollos Energeticos S.A. (DESA) company, was found guilty in July 2021 of being one of the “intellectual coauthors” of the murder of Caceres, a member of the Lenca ethnic group, and on Monday was sentenced to 22 years and six months in prison.

The sentence was read by the National Sentencing Court in the presence of Public Ministry representatives, who had brought the murder charge against Castillo, relatives of the slain woman, members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh), for which Caceres had been the coordinator, and human rights activists, among others.

According to the Public Ministry, Castillo “arranged the death of Caceres as part of a plan to eliminate any obstacle interfering with DESA’s operations on the Gualcarque River, the ancestral lands of the Lenca people.”

Caceres was murdered on March 2, 2016, in the city of La Esperanza, in western Intibuca province, despite precautionary measures having been taken by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to protect her against the ongoing threats she was receiving.

The environmentalist, who cofounded Copinh in 1993, had confronted DESA to defend the Gualcarque River region, where that company intended to build the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, which she said would cause environmental damage, mainly to the Lenca communities there.

Castillo’s sentence was made known almost a year after he was found guilty and after what Zuñiga called four “unjustified” postponements by the Sentencing Court.

“There will be full justice when the intellectual authors of the crime have been captured, judged and convicted,” Copinh emphasized in a statement read by Zuñiga, who led a sit-in in front of the Supreme Court in Tegucigalpa.

Zuñiga added that the Honduran Public Ministry has made “no real advances in clarifying the intellectual authorship” in the murder of Caceres, who in 2015 won the Goldman Award for heading a campaign against the Agua Zarca dam by DESA, which is the largest builder of hydroelectric plants in Honduras.

The Lenca organization and the Caceres family said that they have made concrete proposals to move forward toward “comprehensive justice” for the environmentalist, to guarantee “the rights to truth, justice, reparations and guarantee no repetition.”

The sentence against Castillo, a Honduran soldier, is “a small victory,” said Victor Fernandez, one of the attorneys of the family of Caceres, who in late May 2022 was declared a “National Heroine” by the Honduran Parliament.

A Honduran court in 2019 convicted four of the eight people accused of the killing to 34 years behind bars for Caceres’s murder and to 16 more years for the attempted murder of Mexican Gustavo Castro. Another three defendants were sentenced to 30 years in prison as coauthors of the crime.

EFE ac/rrt/bp

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