The 2nd trial for Berta Cáceres ready for sentencing

Martintxo Mantxo (
Illustration: Brenda Miralda / Photos: COPINH

After 44 days of trial against one of the co-perpetrators of the murder of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, today, her relatives, lawyers and colleagues of COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras) organised a press conference to communicate their feelings and first conclusions in the absence of a verdict. The breakfast briefing, which was attended by several foreign representatives, was held at 8:00 am, 4:00 pm European time. It was moderated by Berta Cáceres’ son, Salvador Zúñiga, and was also attended by her daughters and mother. As the event was ending, the Zapatista delegation to Europe set foot on land after a 47-day journey across the sea, after 2 days of waiting in the port of Vigo, to be welcomed by hundreds of sympathisers from this continent. As far as we know, the coincidence was not premeditated1. Nor do we know if this moment is included in the Mayan calendar, or with which b’aak’tuune it corresponds. On this summer solstice, Sack Q’ij, Udaburua – here and there. But they are undoubtedly milestones of the millenary resistance of Abya Yala that converged in history, and with us; and which will mark the way.

Following the trial in 2018 that found seven people guilty of murdering Berta Cáceres2 , the trial against one of the co-intellectual authors of the crime, David Castillo, began on 6 April 2021. The accused in the murder of Berta Cáceres is David Castillo, the former director of the company DESA (Desarrollos Energéticos S.A.), responsible for the Aguas Zarca hydroelectric project opposed by Berta Cáceres, COPINH and the Lenca community. But David Castillo is also a military intelligence officer trained in the US at West Point. He is accused of planning the assassination of Berta Cáceres.

As Bertha Zúñiga, Berta’s daughter, explained yesterday, and as she also explained at the trial, her mother had already told her about Castillo’s responsibility in the repression she suffered prior to her death, and in other attacks. The family’s lawyer, on the other hand, explained that it now remains for them to pass sentence, but that the evidence presented is resounding and confirms this. In the trial, 62 pieces of evidence were presented of David Castillo’s involvement in the crime. Many of these included phone calls they acceded: from Castillo to the organiser of the assassins, Douglas Bustillo.3 Because the latter carried out monitoring and surveillance of Berta, who then notified Castillo.

According to the family’s lawyer,Víctor Fernández, the evidence against Castillo is their own communications and the context provided by the prosecution, such as that Castillo was guilty of «criminal acts since he was a member of the ENE Interventory Board when the Agua Zarca project was approved». Fernández also explained that in the trial it was proven that on 5 February an attack against Berta was going to take place, in which four soldiers and David Castillo, who is also a soldier, were going to participate. «Castillo was notified that the crime was not going to be carried out due to logistical difficulties».

In this sense, the lawyer Víctor Fernández was categorical in affirming that the owners of the DESA company, the Atala family, are next in line for responsibility. The Atalas are the owners of DESA. José Eduardo Atala was also the director of BCIE (Central American Bank for Economic Integration) in Honduras. BCIE centralised the investment of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project from foreign financiers. As Fernández explained, the reason for the crime was that Berta and the Lenca people, organised in COPINH, had put at risk this million-dollar investment that would bring great benefits to the Atala family. The Agua Zarca hydroelectric project was valued at 44 million dollars. In 2013, its location had already had to be changed due to mobilisations. The mobilisations continued in 2015. The elimination of Berta was the way they understood to stop this movement and to secure this investment from the unilateral banks. Finally the banks FMO (Netherlands), FinnFund (Finland) and the World Bank abandoned the project.

Feminist Camp ¡Viva Berta!

This has been a long process for the family of Berta Cáceres who once again have to face these tragic memories, but above all, the people and the structure that protects them and that caused them irreparable damage. But also a long period of confronting an apparatus that did not hesitate to use the most violent formulas against organised opposition, and whose power and forcefulness are still present in the region. Laura Zúñiga, another of the daughters, denounced the fact that during the days of the hearing, they have continued to be criminalised and «suffered stigmatisation processes blaming us when the criminals are others».

Amnesty International’s director for the Americas, Erika Guevara, also took a similar position, recalling that since Berta’s assassination, 40 other activists have been murdered in Honduras4. In the five years of mobilisation since Berta’s assassination, there has been a succession of threats and criminalisation. Guevara also denounced the «lack of political will» to clarify the facts, as evidenced by the delay and obstruction of the accused’s lawyers, and the lack of transparency of this hearing. He also stressed that despite this hostile environment of impunity, COPINH and the family have continued to mobilise.

We should remember that this crime occurred in 2016, but that in 2009 a coup d’état took place in Honduras against the democratically elected government of Mel Zelaya. Although elections have been organised since then, each one has been denounced for rigging, provoking popular reaction and strong riots. Since the coup, the government has been in the hands of the National Party, which clearly favours a minority, an elite that includes the Atala family. As journalist Christian Duarte5 stated on the anniversary of the murder on 5 March: «After the 2009 coup d’état, the event Honduras Is Open for Business, promoted by the aforementioned families (including the Atala family), allowed the distribution of the country’s natural resources as spoils of war, including Rio Blanco where Agua Zarca was planned. Another expression of these resources is the exchange of favours between the elite and politicians at local» and national level, to which must be added the military contribution, as is the case, or international.

Campamento Feminista ¡viva Berta!

The situation of plunder continues in Honduras. Currently there is strong opposition from the Garifuna (Afro-descendant) people against the ZEDES or Zones for Employment and Economic Development, which are neoliberal schemes proposed after the coup d’état to take away even more territory and resources16 .

A good example of this relentless mobilisation for basic rights and for what Berta represents is the Viva Berta Feminist Camp6, which was set up outside the Supreme Court of Justice. A representative of this camp, Yessica Trinidad, also participated in the breakfast briefing. The camp has been in existence for two months so far, and will be closed when the verdict is read. According to Trinidad, the women continue to stand up, encouraged by the example of Berta Cáceres. This is another example that despite the difficulties and intimidation7, the only way to achieve real justice is to remind them every minute that we are aware of their tricks and that the people will not allow themselves to be deceived.

The hearing ended with the participation of Berta Cáceres’ mother, Austra Bertha Flores, via video, wishing not to die «without first seeing punished all the vile people who murdered Berta Isabel, who was a defender of the rights of indigenous peoples, a defender of Mother Earth and the rivers». She also asked «I hope that you will continue to accompany this struggle so that it serves as an example, so that these cruel murders against defenders of life and human rights do not continue». We will continue accompanying.

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1Today is also a personal and family day as we celebrate the 1st anniversary of the departure of our dear Juani Roncal, feminist, healer, trade unionist and follower of this struggles. Beti gurekin, Juani!!!

2Among them Sergio Rodríguez Orellana, DESA’s manager of community and environmental affairs, and Douglas Bustillo, a retired lieutenant who worked as director of security for the same company until then.

3The 86-page expert report lists all relevant calls and the contents of 17 numbers. Also the Whatsapp conversations.

429 in 2019 alone!

5 «The elites also killed Berta Cáceres» (Nueva Sociedad, March 2021)

6Also convened by the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras, COPINH and OFRANEH.

7In addition to the obvious effect that the murder of a comrade and many other attacks can have, despite being allowed, the Viva Berta Feminist Camp has suffered pressure since the day it began, with police taking photographs and videos of the participants. This intensified since 11 May, the day it was decided to continue on a permanent basis. («Honduras: National Police take videos, photographs and profiles of defenders of the Feminist Camp Viva Berta»ères-actualités/honduras-policía-nacional-toma-vídeos-y-fotografías-y-levanta-perfiles-de-personas-defensoras-del-campamento-feminista-viva-berta)

1″ZEDEs and the «residue» approach»

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