Courtesy Goldman Environmental Prize

Government-Sanctioned Assassination, Say Berta Cáceres Allies

Rick Kearns

The DESA Corporation, the Honduran Government and its military and police are responsible for the assassination of Indigenous Leader Berta Cáceres, assert Cáceres’ organization, her family and her attorney, while Honduran officials have said they are taking every measure possible to investigate the crime.

Starting on the day after the March 3 incident, Honduran activists and allies from around the world staged protests against what they allege was a government-sanctioned assassination of Cáceres, and called on international bodies to step in to assure a thorough investigation.

Demonstrations were held in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, the United States and Canada, while messages of support for the protests came from human rights organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Amnesty International, Global Witness and individuals and groups from Hungary, Spain, Belgium, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Holland, South Korea and others. The protesters echoed the allegations made by Cáceres’ family and many others.

RELATED: Murdered While She Slept: Shocking Death of Berta Cáceres, Indigenous Leader and Activist

In the week following Cáceres’ assassination, her family issued a press statement on the website of the National Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the group lead by Cáceres where they charged the Honduran Government and the DESA Corporation with responsibility for the death.

“We must not allow the truth about the crime that ended her life to be distorted. We know with complete certainty that the motivation for her vile assassination was her struggle against the exploitation of nature's commonwealth and in defense of the Lenca people.

“Her murder is an attempt to put an end to the struggle of the Lenca people against all forms of exploitation and expulsion. It is an attempt to halt the construction of a new world.”

RELATED: The Day Berta Cáceres Was Assassinated

The family, along with supporters from around the world, said that Caceres’ assassination was connected to the ongoing protests against the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River. They charged the DESA Corporation, their financial backers and contractors with participating in “the persecution, criminalization, stigmatization and constant death threats against Berta, us, and COPINH.”

The complicity of the government is also clear according to Cáceres’ attorney, Marcia Aguiluz, who held a press conference last week where she said that the assassination could have been prevented.

"The Honduran State has two types of responsibilities, through action and omission,” Aguiluz stated. “By omission from not having secured the required measures because on the day they murdered Berta there were no police with her.”

Aguiluz, who represented Cáceres before the IACHR which had urged precautionary measures for the activist, also noted that Cáceres told the attorney she had heard that there were plans to murder her. Other witnesses heard threats against Cáceres in the prior months as well.

For Aguiluz, the Cáceres family, COPINH and many organizations, the investigation into the assassination must be overseen by someone other than the Honduran Government.

“She had been the victim of constant threats. The International Court had indicated to the Honduran Government that they should protect her. It knew perfectly well the risks of her cause and the economic interests against which she was fighting. But even still, she didn’t receive the measures necessary to avoid her assassination…It could have been avoided,” Aguiluz asserted.

Meanwhile, the lone survivor of the assassination and the only witness to Cáceres’ murder is in Honduran custody. Gustavo Castro, a Mexican human rights advocate and ally to Cáceres and COPINH, was wounded and reportedly feigned death to avoid further assault from the killers on the morning of the incident. He attempted to leave Honduras and return to Mexico but was stopped by Honduran authorities and taken to a Honduran facility.

One of Castro’s friends and colleagues, Beverly Bell, recently said in an interview that Castro still feared for his life and, “The death squads…were sent, we are certain, by the Honduran government…”

Another human rights NGO that has worked in Honduras, the advocacy group Global Witness, noted recently that environmental activists are more likely to be killed in Honduras than any other country, and that more than 80 percent of murders go unpunished.

As of March 16, Honduran Federal Attorney Oscar Chinchilla announced that there were 50 investigators in the field and that a complete forensic autopsy had been performed. But no suspects were named nor did the official answer questions about whether a new report on Castro’s condition would be released.

RELATED: Goldman Winner Marilyn Baptiste Urges Trudeau to Push for Investigation Into Berta Cáceres Murder in Honduras

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