On Monday, the trial for the murder of Bertha Cáceres, the indigenous Honduran leader of the COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), was set to begin in Tegucigalpa, at the Supreme Court of Justice. She was murdered in her house in La Esperanza on the night of March, 2016.
Thirty months have passed since a group of hitmen broke into her house, shot her in the bedroom and wounded Mexican activist Gustavo Castro Soto, who was sleeping in another room. However, the trial, in which eight people have been charged, was immediately suspended. The court granted the request to this effect made by Cáceres’ children, Bertha and Laura, who explained the position of the family in a press conference.
“What we have denounced as irregularities are the management of the Public Ministry, which has behaved as an adversary, not as an ally, to the victims, which is akin to impunity,” Bertha said. She said the court has not presented them with all the evidence that has been collected, and they are refusing to go to trial until the government can guarantee a fair trial.
Among the complaints brought by the family against the court was also the refusal to admit an expert report on the social and political context in which the murder happened, which was tied to the opposition by COPINH to the construction of a hydroelectric plant along the Río Gualquarque, a river that flows into indigenous territory and is sacred to the Lenca (the group to which Berta belonged). This is documented, with the help of many text messages, in a report by a group of international consultants, experts in human rights, published in November 2017.
This is why the signs held by the representatives of COPINH and other indigenous and African-descendant organizations in Honduras as they protested outside the court on Monday said “#DESACulpable” (“DESA is guilty”). DESA is the company that is in charge of the Agua Zarca dam project. On March 2, 2016, some of the eight assassins accused of Berta’s murder were DESA employees or ex-employees.
This is why the family and COPINH had also asked the court to force members of the Atala Zablah family to testify, as controlling shareholders of DESA. The court refused their request. It is a paradox, just like the fact that COPINH—an organization founded by Cáceres and of which she was the head at the time of her murder—is being kept out of the trial altogether, as it is not recognized as a “victim.”
These moves are all part of a strategy that has been in place since the early days after the murder, when the story was being pushed that Cáceres had been killed in a “crime of passion.”
To try to discredit the results of the independent investigation, DESA put on an offensive using a law firm, Amsterdam & Partners, with offices in London and Washington. In particular, Robert Amsterdam wrote a letter to the 50 European parliamentarians who had sought the annulment of the hydroelectric concession made to DESA for the project.
“COPINH does not represent the indigenous peoples of Honduras,” wrote Amsterdam. “Representatives of our law firm will try to be in Brussels soon to conduct a briefing on the results of our investigation of this organization.” The judgment in the murder trial had been expected by Oct. 19, but the date will be postponed.
All the material on the trial and Berta’s murder can be found here: berta.copinh.org.