Murder case of Berta Cáceres in Honduras: “A first step towards justice”

Tegucigalpa. 22 years and six months in prison for the former CEO of the Honduran energy company Desarollos Enérgeticos SA (Desa), David Castillo, is the verdict of the first criminal division of the Supreme Court in Tegucigalpa on Monday.

Castillo, an engineer and former member of military intelligence, was convicted nearly a year ago of being an accomplice in the March 2016 murder of prominent indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres. However, the determination and promulgation of the sentence had been repeatedly delayed. (america 21 reported).

Victor Fernández, attorney for the co-plaintiff, praised the verdict as a “small victory” and the first step on a long road to justice. The legally possible sentence was between 20 and 25 years, the court chose a middle ground.

Castillo, who has been in prison for almost four and a half years, has to serve two-thirds of his sentence, so he can be released in a good ten years.

The Civil Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), co-founded by Berta Cáceres, was dissatisfied with the verdict: According to an initial press release, it does not meet the expectations of the indigenous Lenca communities for a fair verdict. The Council also deplores the fact that prosecutors are still not investigating those behind the crime and calls on the state to continue to take comprehensive measures towards truth, justice, reparation and guarantees that such a crime will not be repeated.

Miriam Miranda, coordinator of the Afro-indigenous Garífuna organization Ofraneh and longtime companion of Berta Cáceres, told amerika21 that she was angry and appalled by the sentence.

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Bertha Zúniga, daughter of Berta Cáceres and successor as Chair of COPINH, emphasized at a press conference on Monday that after more than six years of tough struggles with the judiciary, a milestone has been reached and the possibility of a more difficult fight has opened up: the criminal prosecution of the Commissioner of the murder of Berta Cáceres because of her opposition to the hydroelectric power station Agua Zarca.

The trial of David Castillo had provided numerous indications of the alleged involvement of the co-owners of the Desa company from the influential Atala Zablah family of entrepreneurs and Desa CFO Daniel Atala Midence. Since the detailed written verdict was not read out, but was transferred to USB sticks brought by the trial participants, it is not yet clear how the assessment of the evidence and the context will turn out. The extremely succinct reasoning that was presented names two chat groups in which members of the Desa board were involved and in which the murder plan against Berta Cáceres was discussed with Castillo. The files on the case remain under lock and key in order to make further investigations possible, the court said.

Organizations of the International Forum for Human Rights in Honduras emphasized that among the necessary guarantees for the indigenous Lenca communities in Honduras is the cancellation of the concession for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric power station. Their illegal occurrence, which is characterized by fraud and embezzlement, is currently being negotiated in a parallel trial against Castillo and other defendants (america21 reported)

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COPINH continues to try to hold the banks involved in the project accountable, and on Monday demonstrated not only in front of the courthouse, but also in front of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration.

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