Crime & Justice

Honduras protecting masterminds of activist’s murder, family say

Tegucigalpa, Mar 2 (efe-epa).- Members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh) joined the family and friends of slain environmental activist Berta Caceres for a protest Tuesday on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the crime.

Though seven people have been convicted and sentenced for the March 3, 2016, murder, Copinh and the Caceres family say that authorities continue to protect those who ordered the killing.

The demand for the arrest and punishment of the “intellectual authors” remains unmet, one of the victim’s daughters, Bertha Zuñiga, told Efe.

The Honduran government, according to Zuñiga, has sought to “create a smokescreen” around the case with aim of deceiving people into believing that all of the perpetrators have been identified and punished.

“We feel we are now at the moment of demolishing the strongest wall that has been raised regarding impunity: the arrest of the intellectual authors, which remains in doubt,” she said.

Zuñiga, who is now a director of Copinh, an organization her mother helped found, said that the family will continue their fight for justice.

“Fortunately we have what is most valuable from the evidence and information, which normally disappear in emblematic cases,” she said.

“We must continue this work until we achieve it (justice), and, we hope, in a different political configuration where independence of the branches (of government) truly exists,” Zuñiga said.

Berta Caceres, the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, was fatally shot inside her home in the western city of La Esperanza. Mexican environmental activist Gustavo Castro Soto was wounded in the attack and survived only by playing dead.

Supporters and associates say they think Caceres was killed for leading a campaign against construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to the Lenca indigenous people.

Caceres had received threats connected with her opposition to the dam and was supposed to be under the protection of the authorities at the time of her murder.

Agua Zarca was a project of the DESA firm, whose then-CEO, Roberto David Castillo, was arrested in 2018 and is set to go on trial next month on charges he ordered Caceres killed.

Castillo, a former military officer, is “the key piece that links the intellectual authors” of the killing, Zuñiga said.

Four people found guilty of carrying out the attack were sentenced to a total of 50 years in prison for the murder of Caceres and the attempted murder of Gustavo Castro.

Three accomplices received prison terms of 30 years.

The goal of Copinh and the family was not “to try people who were paid by this group of people connected to the Atala Zablah family, but rather to try and punish those who paid for ordered this crime, which has not been achieved so far,” Zuñiga said.

The Atala Zablahs are among the most powerful families in Honduras. Two members of the family, Jose Eduardo Atala Zablah and Pedro Atala Zablah, sit on the DESA board of directors.

Spain’s ambassador to Honduras, Guillermo Kirkpatrick, was one of several diplomats who traveled Tuesday to Santa Catarina, a rural community near La Esperanza, for the dedication of a modest monument to Caceres.

The envoys joined Caceres’ daughters and her mother, Austra Flores, for the unveiling of an altar and a portrait of the slain indigenous leader. EFE ac/dr

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