“We’ve been expecting this sentence for almost a year. This opens a very important stage in order to realise this guilty verdict against one of the killers of my mother, our comrade Berta Cáceres,” said Bertha Zúniga, the coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).
The leader warned that the judicial decision could still be reversed and the Honduran justice system must continue investigations to prosecute the masterminds of the murder of Cáceres who are, according to COPINH, several members of the Atala family.
“We know that someone ordered, and someone paid for the attack on the Lenca people and COPINH, to try to subdue them and to assassinate our comrade Berta Cáceres. And there they are, getting rich, going unpunished, as if nothing happened,” she said in the Real World Radio interview.
On Monday, the Sentence Court of the Supreme Court of Justice convicted David Castillo, as co-perpetrator of the murder of Cáceres, to 22 years and 6 months in prison. The sentence was finally announced after about a year of waiting and several postponements – Castillo was originally convicted on 5 July 2021.
Cáceres was murdered on 2 March 2016 in her home, in the town of La Esperanza, Intibucá department, because of her leadership in the COPINH struggle against the establishment of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, owned by the company Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA), on the Gualcarque River. The environmentalist Gustavo Castro, member of Otros Mundos Chiapas – Friends of the Earth Mexico, was also injured in the attack on Cáceres.
Zúniga told Real World Radio that the sentence is somewhat “bittersweet”; Castillo’s sentence took a year to materialise and the punishment is not enough – it could have been up to 25 years of imprisonment. “There have been many manoeuvers of impunity. We were hoping to get him 25 years in jail. But no number is going to be enough to repair or alleviate the pain of such a great loss,” Zúniga said.
The COPINH coordinator, whose mandate as coordinator was recently extended until 2025, warned that Castillo’s case could go to the Court of Appeals, which “is very dangerous and has a huge judicial backlog”. “To date, in the case of the seven previous defendants for the murder of Berta Cáceres, that Court has not convicted anyone. Once convicted, it typically takes four-five years for the conviction to materialise, and in the meantime, there is still a risk of impunity, of the convicted employing manoeuvers to be released,” explained the leader. “That’s why we want a swift sentence for Castillo, effective and within the real time frame, so that these 22 years and 6 months are an effective time period in which we can be sure that there is no longer a reversal of the process,” she added.
Regarding the constant delay in the reading of the sentence, Zúniga stated that “it is part of the violation of the rights of the victims, the violation of their right for access to justice”. She added that, “despite the excuses, for us it was a kind of mockery of our organisation. The communities were also very upset since we have been making the effort to accompany this whole process from the territories.”
Our interviewee highlighted that there is no political will to prosecute the intellectual authors of her mother’s murder. “The Atala family is a powerful one, they consider themselves untouchable. Nobody wants to do anything against them, or they’re scared to, I don’t know. There are no proper conditions [for bringing them to justice].” However, COPINH will continue to fight for the investigation and prosecution of the intellectual authors of the political femicide of Cáceres.
“We leave that responsibility to the justice system. We are going to fight so that the new administration also implies real commitments,” Zúniga said. She added: “We are also requesting the involvement of international technical and independent commissions to assist, monitor, review, handle proceedings and information and fulfil fiscal requirements, so that this emblematic case is also honoured from within justice.”