TEGUCIGALPA – The trial of an alleged mastermind behind the 2016 murder of award-winning environmentalist Berta Caceres began in Honduras on Tuesday.
Caceres, a winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, was shot dead in her La Esperanza home by armed intruders five years ago. Her Mexican friend Gustavo Castro was also shot but played dead and survived.
The activist had campaigned against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project developed by Desarrollos Energeticos (Desa) over concerns of threats to the environment and indigenous Lenca communities.
Four of eight defendants in the case were each sentenced in December 2019 to 34 years in prison for the murder of Caceres and 16 years for the attempted murder of Castro. Three others were sentenced to 30 years in prison as co-perpetrators of the crime.
The trial began in a Tegucigalpa court after a more than three-hour delay in the transfer of former Desa president, former military intelligence officer and alleged “intellectual author” of the crime, Roberto David Castillo.
Caceres’ daughter Laura Zuñiga and international observers were unable to enter the courtroom, according to trial monitor Qualified Observation Mission.
“We know that this process can open the doors (…) for the conclusion of the responsibility of those who paid and ordered the crime,” another daughter of Caceres, Bertha Zuñiga, told EFE.
Zuñiga, coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), said that the trial is also an opportunity to “reconstruct the events” that occurred on the day that Caceres was assassinated.
“(We hope) for truth, for justice and to contribute to the guarantee of non-repetition of these crimes” against the defenders of territories and natural resources, she added.
“(We also hope to) break a little the structural impunity that exists in our country and that protects those people who are economic and political leaders.”
One of the Caceres family’s lawyers, Victor Fernandez, told EFE that the murder is related to “acts of corruption, human rights violations, other murders and to the corrupt concession model that exists in the country.”
He said that he hopes that the trial will be carried out with a “gender and human rights perspective,” because the victim was a woman and this was “an element that favored the criminals to execute her.”
Caceres’ mother Austra Berta Flores, her brothers and the Association for a More Just Society urged the court for “prompt justice, impartiality and judicial independence.”
They also expressed concern for about the upcoming expiration of preventive detention of Castillo, since he could “go free, flee the country or take his life to avoid further investigations and stop any process against the other intellectual authors” of the murder.
The trial is expected to run throughout April.