Honduras condemns ex-executive for murder of indigenous environmental activist

Honduras condemns ex-executive for murder of indigenous environmental activist

TEGUCIGALPA – A former senior executive at a Honduran construction company was found guilty on Monday of collaborating in the 2016 murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres, a decision an executive attorney has vowed to appeal.

Roberto David Castillo, the former head of Desarrollos Energeticos, or DESA, led the $ 50 million Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project which the indigenous Cáseres fervently opposed.

Castillo’s lawyer Ritza Antunez said the decision was the result of “international pressure” but gave no details. She added that Castillo’s conviction would be appealed.

Seven other men have already been found guilty and sentenced for playing a role in the murder. Castillo was initially accused of being the mastermind behind the murder, but was convicted of being a co-conspirator.

It’s unclear when Castillo could be sentenced, although the process could take months.

DESA, meanwhile, did not immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Cáceres was gunned down in her home in Honduras after leading a fight to prevent DESA from building a dam on her Lenca tribe’s land on the Gualcarque River.

A man places a lit candle next to a photo of Berta Cáceres in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, April 5, 2021. Elmer Martinez / AP

The veteran activist had been involved in environmental causes since the early 1990s, starting with illegal logging. She won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to organize resistance to the dam.

Lenca activists said the project would cause major disruption to their water and food supplies and that the builders had failed to consult with local indigenous groups.

Caceres-founded indigenous rights groups, COPINH, hailed the decision as a victory.

“This means that criminal power structures have failed to corrupt the justice system,” COPINH wrote in a Twitter post.

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for activists, with 14 land and environmental defenders killed in 2019, up from four in 2018, according to advocacy group Global Witness.

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