7 found guilty in killing of Honduran environmental activist
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — A Honduran court found seven people guilty of participating in the 2016 murder of prize-winning indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres, while acquitting an eighth suspect in a case that has drawn international attention.
In a unanimous ruling released Thursday, three judges found that Elvin Rapalo, Henry Hernandez, Edilson Duarte and Oscar Galeas carried out the killing of Caceres, who was shot inside her home in La Esperanza in western Honduras one year after winning the Goldman Environmental Prize for her leadership against a dam project.
They face up to 30 years in prison for the murder conviction, and their sentences will be announced Jan. 10.
The judges issued guilty verdicts on lesser charges for army officer Mariano Diaz, ex-soldier Douglas Bustillo and Sergio Rodriguez, a manager of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, which Caceres had opposed. Emerson Duarte, Edilson’s brother, was acquitted. He had been accused of covering up the crime.
The ruling did not satisfy Caceres’ family, which wants those behind the killing to be prosecuted as well.
Roberto David Castillo Mejia, who was executive president of the company leading the construction work, DESA, when Caceres was killed, is accused by prosecutors of organizing the logistics of the killing. He is in prison awaiting trial.
The company has said Castillo and its other employees were “totally unconnected” to the murder.
Friends, family, activists and members of Caceres’ Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras demonstrated outside the court.
“We’re going for them. … Capture the intellectual authors of this crime!” the protesters shouted.
Her organization released a statement saying the latest ruling only affects “the lowest link in the criminal structure.”
“We regret that the actions so far have not been directed against those who ordered the death of Berta or those who paid for her murder,” said Omar Menjivar, a lawyer for Caceres’ lawyer.
Activists held up a banner reading “The Atala are missing,” a reference to the Atala Zablah family, shareholders of DESA, which protesters accuse of being behind the actions against Caceres.
Caceres had reported receiving death threats and her family said there was collusion between the company and state security forces.
The Honduran government has been under significant pressure from abroad to solve the killing in a country where impunity runs high.