Al Jazeera & Global Witness – 2018-03-03 19:34:18
Honduras Arrests ‘Mastermind’ Behind Berta Caceres’ Murder
Officials say David Castillo Mejia
planned the murder and provided support
to the killers of environmental activist Caceres
(March 3, 2018) — Police in Honduras have arrested a construction executive for his alleged role in the murder of environmental and indigenous activist Berta Caceres.
David Castillo Mejia is charged as being the “intellectual author” of the killing in 2016 while CEO of Desarrollos Energeticos (DESA), the firm behind a project to build a hydroelectric dam across a river on which indigenous communities were dependant.
Caceres was a vocal opponent of the plans and said she had received death threats from the firm in the run up to her assassination two years ago in the Honduran capital, La Esperanza. In the past, DESA has denied any involvement in the murder of Caceres.
The arrest on Friday brings the total number of individuals arrested to nine, of which eight are already serving sentences for convictions stemming from the murder.
Last year, a team of international lawyers said Honduran authorities had evidence implicating high-level business executives and state agents in Caceres’ murder, but had yet to arrest them. It also said that there were serious flaws in the government’s investigation of the killing.
Caceres’ murder was condemned internationally and put the spotlight on the dangers of environmental activism in Honduras and worldwide.
17-year-old Alan Garcia was shot in his chest while protesting a hydropower dam on his community’s land. Alan’s father was shot dead by the military in the same attack.
‘Most Dangerous’ for Environmentalists
More than 120 environmental activists have been killed in Honduras since 2010, according to the NGO Global Witness, making the country one of the most dangerous in the world for such activism.
Many of these cases focus on the construction of hydroelectric projects, or the mining of resources on indigenous land. Relatives of victims, often complain that instead of receiving support from police and help tracking down killers, they are intimidated by officials into leaving their land.
Global Witness alleges the involvement of some of the country’s elite in the killings; including serving and former members of the military; politicians; and business leaders.
In 2013, Caceres told Al Jazeera that she believed the army had a hit list of activists with her name on the top but that Honduran officials were reluctant to take action. Several of those convicted or arrested in connection with her death are former military or police officials.
Caceres was one of Latin America’s most prominent environmental activists. She won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015.
Honduras: The Deadliest Country
In the World for Environmental Activism
(August 31, 2017) — More than 120 people have been killed in Honduras since 2010 for standing up to companies that grab land and trash the environment
Nowhere are you more likely to be killed for standing up to companies that grab land and trash the environment than in Honduras.
More than 120 people have died since 2010, according to Global Witness research. The victims were ordinary people who took a stand against dams, mines, logging or agriculture on their land — murdered by state forces, security guards or hired assassins. Countless others have been threatened, attacked or imprisoned.
17-year-old Alan Garcia survived a bullet to his chest. He was protesting against a hydropower dam on his community’s land when the military opened fire. Alan’s father was shot dead in the same attack.
Three years later, in 2016, high-profile environmental activist Berta Caceres was assassinated for demonstrating against the very same dam.
WHO IS BEHIND THE MURDERS?
Following a two-year investigation into who’s behind these murders we can reveal how projects at the heart of conflicts are linked to the country’s rich and powerful elites, among them members of the political class.
Our investigation sheds light on the back-door deals, bribes and lawbreaking used to impose projects and silence opposition. We also scrutinise how the US is bankrolling Honduran state forces, which are behind some of the worst attacks. Download our full report: Honduras: the deadliest place to defend the planet (PDF, 3.1 MB)
Listen to our podcast about the investigation: available via Soundcloud and itunes
POWERFUL ELITES AND CHRONIC IMPUNITY
These crimes are being met with chronic levels of impunity. On rare occasions the triggermen are arrested, but the people who contract them are almost never punished.
“We have documented countless chilling attacks and threats, including the savage beating by soldiers of pregnant women, children held at gunpoint by police, arson attacks on villagers’ homes, whilst hired assassins still wander free among their victims’ communities.”
— Billy Kyte, Global Witness campaign leader
Among those linked to the violence is Gladis Aurora Lopez, the president of Honduras’ ruling party and one of the most powerful politicians in the country. Documents leaked to Global Witness reveal that the planned Los Encinos hydropower project in the west of the country is controlled by Lopez’s husband, who aims to sell energy to the state despite appearing to have a clear, and illegal, conflict of interest.
Three indigenous activists who opposed the project have been killed — their bodies found dismembered and showing signs of torture.
We interviewed Roberto, an indigenous activist who has vocally opposed the Los Encinos project. He described how his community was evicted from their homes by a squadron of police, who also set fire to their crops.
US AID DIRECTED TO POLICE AND MILITARY
As Honduras’ biggest aid donor, the US wields significant influence. In 2016, it contributed US$100 million in bilateral aid, which could be a huge boost to fighting poverty in a country, which suffers the highest levels of inequality in the whole of Latin America. But tens of millions of aid dollars were directed to the police and military, both of which are heavily implicated in violence against land and environmental activists.
Meanwhile, the US continues to pump money into Honduran industry, despite concerns raised in Congress about the country’s dubious human rights record. The US embassy has been promoting ramped-up investment in Honduras’ extractive industries, for instance, with US mining giant Electrum already planning a US$1 billion investment.
HOW CAN THE KILLING BE STOPPED?
Our key recommendations for change include:
* The Honduran government must guarantee the protection of land and environmental defenders, properly resourcing and implementing those institutions responsible for their security
* The Honduran government, police and judiciary must bring the perpetrators of crimes against these activists to justice, and end the corruption behind abusive business projects
* The Honduran government must work with civil society to strengthen and implement laws that guarantee the consent of indigenous communities before projects are given the green light.
* The US must implement human rights conditions on aid to Honduras, condemn the killings of defenders and suspend investment in industries causing the violence until activists are better protected, crimes against them are prosecuted and communities are consulted before business projects go ahead
* Foreign investors and International Financial Institutions should stop any planned investments in the industries causing the violence — mining, dams, logging, tourism and large-scale agricultural projects.
The following Global Witness reports document numerous attacks of Honduran activists:
* Berta Caceres, COPINH and the shady interests behind the Agua Zarca dam
* Businessman Lenir Perez’s mining operation
* The massacre of the Toulpan community
* The Garifuna people and the powers behind Honduras’ flagship tourism development
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