After eight years, masterminds of the murder of activist Berta Cáceres are still free in Honduras

Popular movements want the Honduran Supreme Court to confirm the sentences of perpetrators  already convicted

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
Berta Cáceres in the riverbanks, western Honduras, where she stood against a transnational project - Goldman Environmental Prize

Popular movements and the family of Berta Cáceres, the Honduran activist murdered in 2016, are demanding that the country's justice system hold the perpetrators of the crime accountable.

Cáceres was the coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH, in Spanish) and opposed the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric plant project on the Gualcarque River, considered a sacred place for the Lenca Indigenous peoples. In the early hours of March 3, 2016, she was killed at home in the town of La Esperanza, in southwestern Honduras. Armed men stormed the place where she was and shot her dead.

“Eight years after the crime, the justice system in Honduras has not confirmed the sentences of the men convicted for the crime and has not prosecuted the intellectual authors [of the crime],” Laura Zúniga, Berta’s daughter, told the press on Wednesday (5). The sentences must be confirmed."

Eight people have already been convicted for the crime, but the sentences need to be confirmed by the Honduran Supreme Court. In 2022, the court sentenced David Castillo, former manager of the Desarrollos Energéticos (Desa, in Spanish) company and responsible for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric plant project, to 22 years and 6 months in prison. In 2018, seven other people were sentenced to between 30 and 50 years in prison for the crime.

The Honduran courts found that Desa whose owner is the Atala family, ordered the murder of Cáceres because of the alleged delays and economic damage caused by the environmentalist's protests. 

Bertha Zúniga, another of Cáceres' daughters, said that the country's press did not report the crime as it should have, and avoided mentioning the Atala family.

"The Honduran media receive funding from Atala's companies. Journalists who interview us make it clear that if we mention the word Atala, the interview will not be published,” she explained. “That's why we need international pressure.”

The activist emerged as an important national leader of the Honduran refoundation movement after the 2009 coup d'état.

Before she was killed, she was threatened, intimidated, criminalized and physically assaulted by members of the country's security forces and people linked to private companies.

For her work and struggle, Berta has won international recognition. In 2015, she received the Goldman Environmental Prize and was included on Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Her murder caused worldwide commotion.

Despite the attacks targeting environmental defenders, Honduras has not signed the Escazú Agreement, the first environmental human rights treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean that obliges signatory states to protect environmental defenders. The agreement came into force on April 22, 2021.

Edited by: Thalita Pires