International

Honduras Court Convicts Ex-Dam Executive in Murder of Celebrated Environmentalist

Written by Tamarindo News

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — A former top executive of a Honduran construction firm was found guilty on Monday of being a collaborator in the 2016 murder of the Indigenous environmental activist Berta Caceres, a judge said in a court ruling.

Roberto David Castillo, the former head of Desarrollos Energeticos, or DESA, which was overseeing the $50 million Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project, was originally charged with being the mastermind behind the murder, but was found guilty of being a co-conspirator. He is set to be sentenced on Aug. 3.

Seven other men have already been convicted and sentenced for playing a role in the killing.

Mr. Castillo has said he is innocent of the charges. Neither he nor DESA could be immediately reached for a comment on the judge’s ruling.

Ms. Caceres was shot to death in 2016 when gunmen burst into the house where she was staying in La Esperanza, her hometown in western Honduras. She had been leading the fight to stop the dam from being built by DESA on the lands of her Lenca tribe on the Gualcarque River.

The veteran activist had taken on environmental causes since the early 1990s, beginning with illegal logging. She won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for her efforts to organize resistance to the dam. After her murder, banks financing the dam project pulled out.

Lenca activists said that the project would have caused major disruptions to their water and food supply and that the builders had not consulted the area’s Indigenous groups.

The Indigenous rights groups founded by Ms. Caceres, Copinh, called the court’s decision a “victory” for the people of Honduras.

“It means that the criminal power structures failed to corrupt the justice system,” Copinh wrote on Twitter.

The other suspects arrested and tried in the killing included company employees, hired assassins and members of the army.

Mr. Castillo was arrested in March of 2018 at an airport in San Pedro Sula, in northern Honduras, as he was about to fly to Houston, news reports said, citing the prosecutor’s office.

Honduras is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for activists, with 14 land and environmental defenders killed in 2019, up from four people in 2018, according to advocacy group Global Witness.

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