The former senior executive of the Desa hydroelectric plant, Roberto David Castillo, was sentenced by Honduran justice on Monday (5) for participating in the 2016 assassination of environmentalist Berta Cáceres, who opposes a project developed in indigenous territory.
Winner of the Goldman Environmental Award in 2015, the activist was killed in March 2016 by snipers who broke into her home in La Esperanza, in the west of the country. A Mexican activist who was also at the scene survived the attack with injuries.
In the decision, the judge said that Cáceres, then coordinator of Copinh (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), was assassinated on the orders of Desa (Desarrollos Energéticos SA), for opposing, through demonstrations, the construction of a hydroelectric power station. in the city Rivière Gualcarque.
The US $ 50 million project (R $ 254.4 million in Monday’s quotation) provided for the dam on the territory of the Lenca tribe, considered sacred. According to activists, the construction would cause major disruption to water and food supplies, and indigenous groups in the area have not been consulted. After the assassination of Cáceres, international investors abandoned the project.
During the hearing, the content of the phone calls between Castillo and the seven other convicts, tried in 2019 and sentenced to terms of 30 to 50 years in prison, was revealed. The initial charge against the former executive, who is also a retired military officer, was that he was the mastermind of the crime, but his conviction was for conspiracy – he pleaded not guilty. His sentence will be defined at a hearing convened on August 3.
The executive’s conviction “is a grain of sand in court for the murder of my mother,” said Laura Zúniga. “Today we feel happy. The Honduran people are fed up with so much impunity and death. The next step is missing, “he added. The Cáceres family and the leaders of Copinh are calling for the punishment of Castillo and Desa’s partners, members of influential banking families.
On Twitter, Copinh called the decision a victory for the Honduran people. “This means that the power structures of crime have failed to corrupt the justice system.”
Due to its activism of more than two decades in defense of indigenous lands against the construction of hydroelectric dams, dams and infrastructure works, Cáceres was under threat. Before her, 130 other activists had been killed in ten years, but most of these cases went unpunished. The death of the environmentalist, however, has taken on international significance. She had won awards and spoken of attempts to eliminate him to foreign newspapers.
The assassination highlighted the persistence of civil tensions in Honduras, led by a party and president, Juan Orlando Hernández, accused of corruption and links to drug trafficking.
The country is one of the most violent in the world, with a murder rate of 39 per 100,000 inhabitants, and it has been governed since 2009 by the National Party, the date of the dismissal of Manuel Zelaya, then proxy.