Since the murder of Indigenous environmental activist Berta Caceres on March 2, 2016, presumably to stop her activities to organize resistance against the building of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on a river sacred to the Lenca people, her family has called repeatedly for an independent international investigation. The Honduran government could not be trusted to carry one out, first accused COPINH members and others close to Berta, has refused to share information about the investigation with the family, and has stalled the progress of the case at every turn. The family believes that high level Honduran government officials, in collusion with the dam company (DESA), are complicit in Berta’s assassination.
Therefore, In November of 2016, the International Advisory Group of Experts (GAIPE) was created to carry out this investigation on behalf of the family. They made their
public on Wednesday, November 1.
Even though the Honduran government refused to release all the evidence, they did, when ordered by a court to do so, hand over some of it. GAIPE’s conclusions based on even this smaller proportion of the evidence confirm the Caceres family’s suspicions. Excerpts from the report:
“Based on the analysis of [this partial] evidence collected, GAIPE has documented criminal conduct and irregularities in the investigation, and has identified the possible intellectual authors of the murder.” [The Honduran government has repeatedly claimed that it has been pursuing the investigation diligently and that those arrested for the crime were not acting on higher orders, that there were no other intellectual authors of the crime.]
“This report demonstrates that shareholders, executives, managers, and employees of DESA; private security companies working for DESA; and public officials and State security agencies implemented different strategies to violate the right to prior, free and informed consultations of the Lenca indigenous people. The strategy was to control, neutralize and eliminate any opposition [to the dam].” They did this through “smear campaigns, infiltrations, surveillance, threats, contract killing, sabotage of COPINH’s communication equipment; cooptation of justice officials and security forces, and strengthening of parallel structures to State security forces.”
GAIPE found “willful negligence” on the part of the international financial institutions, who funded the project and “had prior knowledge of the strategies undertaken by DESA,” to protect the human rights of the affected communities.
with evidence that has been in the possession of the Public Prosecutor’s Office since May 2, 2016
[emphasis CRLN’s], that the planning, execution and cover-up of Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores’ murder started in November 2015. That period coincides with the mobilization of indigenous communities and COPINH in opposition to the Agua Zarca Project.” [The early possession of this evidence establishes the government’s role in the cover up of the murder.] “The failure to provide access to this information has also promoted impunity for criminal attacks against members of COPINH and Lenca communities that oppose the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project.”
CRLN would like to publicly thank Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) for issuing statements after the release of the report to publicize its findings:
Rep. Schakowsky’s statement:
“Berta Caceres was murdered in cold blood almost two years ago, and justice has yet to be served.”
“The report released this week gives us clear and unequivocal evidence of how carefully orchestrated the assassination plot was and how rampant the impunity has been. It is unacceptable that, despite the mounting international and domestic pressure, the Honduran Public Ministry has dragged its feet and refused to conduct a thorough and fair investigation. Berta’s family has put themselves in great personal danger and spared no expense to ensure that this private investigation was completed. Now it is time for justice to be served. The Honduran government should know that the world is watching, and that their mishandling of this crucial trial will not go unnoticed. An ally of the United States like Honduras must commit to fostering an independent press, an impartial judicial system, and a robust and free civil society.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy:
“This damning report corroborates what many have suspected — that the investigation of Berta Caceres’ murder has been plagued by incompetence, attempts to stonewall and deflect blame to protect those who conceived of and paid for this plot, and a glaring lack of political will. The Public Ministry needs to fully disclose, without further delay, all testimony and electronic and ballistics evidence to the Caceres family’s legal representatives and defendants’ lawyers, as required by law. The Ministry also needs to ensure that every piece of evidence is properly safeguarded, and to follow the evidence wherever it leads to arrest those responsible.
“It is shameful that despite intense domestic and international pressure, this horrific case has languished, while those responsible have sought to derail it. And there are hundreds of other Honduran social activists and journalists who have been similarly threatened and killed, whose cases have not even prompted investigations.
“Any hope that the Honduran Government may have of continued U.S. assistance under the Alliance for Prosperity Plan will hinge, in part, on the outcome of the Caceres case, acceptance of the legitimate role of civil society and the independent press, and top-to-bottom reform of the judicial system.”