Sunday 24 September 2023

Honduras convicts former executive in activist’s murder

US-trained ex-army officer Robert David Castillo is the latest suspect to be found guilty in the murder of environmental and Indigenous rights defender Berta Caceres.

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23 September 2023 - At The Banks - Source: BCCR

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Q24N – A court in Honduras found a former top executive at a hydroelectric company guilty on Monday of collaboration in the 2016 murder of a prominent environmental activist.

Robert David Castillo was in-charge of a $50 million hydroelectric dam project in indigenous territories of Honduras

Roberto David Castillo, a US-trained former army intelligence officer, was the eighth person convicted for the murder of Berta Caceres.

Initially accused of being the mastermind behind the murder, he was found guilty of being the co-perpetrator.

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During the trial, Castillo was shown to have had telephone conversations with the seven other people who have already received sentences of between 30 and 50 years in prison.

Castillo was the former general manager of Desarrollos Energeticos S.A., or DESA, and the person in-charge of a $50 million (€42.1 million) hydroelectric dam project in Indigenous territories of Honduras.

Who was Berta Caceres?

Caceres was a veteran activist who had been fighting for environmental causes since the 1990s.

She campaigned against illegal logging and was a fervent opponent of DESA’s dam project in the region for which she won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015.

Indigenous activists have said that the project would cause major disruptions to their water and food supply and that the builders did not consult local groups.

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Why was she killed?

According to the prosecution, she was killed due to her efforts to stop the company from building a hydroelectric plant on the lands of her Lenca tribe on the Gualcarque River.

Caceres was shot and killed on March 2, 2016, in her home in the western village of La Esperanza.

Castillo was arrested two years later. Prosecutors said he and two other DESA executives, both of whom have been convicted, had hired the assassins.

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What have Caceres’s supporters said?

The court’s decision was celebrated as a victory by the COPINH group of indigenous organizations, which was founded by Caceres.

“It means that the criminal power structures failed to corrupt the justice system,” the group said on Twitter.

The decision was “a grain of sand” in the search for justice, said Caceres’ daughter Laura Zuniga.

“We feel happy now. The Honduran people are fed up with so much impunity and death,” said Zuniga.

What did Castillo say?

Castillo maintained his innocence throughout the trial. His lawyer, Ritza Antunez, has promised to appeal the conviction, which she said was a result of “international pressure.”

However, she offered no details.

Castillo is due to be sentenced on August 3.

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