The killing of award-winning environmentalist and indigenous leader Berta Cáceres by two gunmen at her home in Honduras raises questions about the possible role of Honduran soldiers and police in her death, the Washington Post reports.
“You have to say that the assassination of my mom was due to her intense fight against this hydroelectric project [the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam],” Cáceres’s daughter, Zúñiga, said in an interview. “If they’ve killed her, someone so well-known, they can kill anyone.”
Relatives and colleagues of Berta Cáceres see her killing as a political assassination and don’t believe authorities will conduct an impartial investigation. They cite what they call a pattern of intimidation and abuse by security forces, including a national police unit called Los Tigres, which was set up by U.S. Special Forces soldiers over the past two years and receives funding and training from the United States.
Cáceres co-founded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH) 22 years ago amid growing threats to indigenous Lenca territory from loggers, farmers and state-sponsored projects.
By Joshua Partlow and Gabriela Martinez, published by the Washington Post on March 18
MEXICO CITY — When two gunmen left an award-winning environmentalist and indigenous leader dead in her home in rural Honduras this month, they also inadvertently left behind a witness.
Gustavo Castro, a Mexican colleague of Berta Cáceres’s and the only other person in the house at the time, was also shot, taking bullets in the ear and hand. After lying bleeding on the floor for a couple of hours pretending to be dead, Castro escaped by leaping over a gate and into a friend’s waiting car.
“He was very desperate, very distressed,” said Tomás Gómez, who picked Castro up that night. “He was afraid the assassins were going to come finish him off.”
Castro, now recovering in a house affiliated with the Mexican Embassy in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, has become a central figure in the murder mystery that has shocked and captivated the country. Relatives and colleagues of Cáceres argue that the Honduran government is responsible for her death, either by failing to protect her after a string of threats or by ordering the killing — and Castro’s testimony could shed light on the culprits.
Last year, Berta Cáceres [pictured] won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her opposition to one of the region’s biggest hydroelectric projects, a cascade of four dams in the Gualcarque river basin, including the Agua Zarca dam. The river is sacred to the Lenca people and the proposed dam would cut-off food and medicine supplies to nearby communities.
Cáceres was shot dead at her home after suffering years of intimidation and threats against her life linked to her activism.
Honduras is the most dangerous country in the world for environmental defenders with 101 murdered between 2010 and 2014, according to the NGO Global Witness.