PHM Canada signed on to the Americas Program joint organizational statement (seen below) on the David Castillo Trial for Murder of Berta Cáceres. David Castillo was a former military intelligence officer and head of DESA, the energy company responsible for the dam project on the Rio Gualcarque that Berta and the Lenca people opposed. He is thought to play a crucial role in the assassination. The joint statement urges the judges and officials involved in trying the case to do so as fairly as possible based on facts, without yielding pressure from powerful economic and political actors. To sign on and for more information, please click here.
The March 2, 2016 murder of Honduran indigenous rights defender Berta Cáceres, Coordinator of the Lenca organization COPINH, provoked indignation in Honduras and around the world. Berta was murdered while supporting Indigenous Lenca communities in opposing the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project that was being advanced through a public limited company created for the project, Desarrollos Enérgeticos S.A. (DESA).
An unprecedented level of international scrutiny of the subsequent murder investigation resulted in five related penal prosecutions that have been conducted or are currently taking place.
The trial of the DESA hydroelectric company CEO and former military intelligence officer David Castillo is underway and is expected to conclude within two weeks. Prior to Castillo’s trial, on Nov. 29, 2018, five paid assassins and two former DESA executives were convicted of murdering Berta. Three other prosecutions are related to fraud and abuse of power in the granting of the permits and contracts for the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project.
It is essential that the judges in Castillo’s case be able to make their decision without pressure from powerful actors interested in swaying the verdict and obscuring the truth about the intellectual authors of this crime. Given the emblematic nature of, and international focus on this crime, holding both material and intellectual authors accountable is essential for progress in addressing impunity in Honduras and ensuring the protection of activists.
Despite lobbying and public relations efforts intended to obscure the facts, the evidence indicating that Castillo directly participated in the murder of Berta is conclusive.
The extensive and detailed evidence submitted in this trial and related prosecutions also demonstrates that Castillo was part of a criminal structure that engaged in a range of crimes, including financial crimes and violence, and that other members of this criminal structure participated in actions to facilitate Berta’s murder and other crimes. The emerging picture of the criminal network is a clear illustration of the kleptocratic networks that perpetrate the corruption and violence whose eradication the Biden Administration has pledged to make the focal point of its strategy in Central America. The political and economic influence of members of this criminal network is extensive and formidable.
The evidence demonstrates that Castillo directly participated in Berta’s murder by hiring and assisting the former DESA chief of security, Douglas Bustillo, to assemble a team of assassins to carry out the crime. Though communications between Castillo and Bustillo demonstrate that Castillo made some effort to keep the operation at a distance, to protect himself and his company, he did not take sufficient precautions. The telecommunications data clearly demonstrates that Bustillo informed Castillo of failures in the first attempt to murder Berta on February 6, 2016 and requested that Castillo provide more funding in advance of the murder so that the assassin team could have better logistics. Castillo and Bustillo then coordinated a meeting for purpose of advancing money to Bustillo just two days before the successful March 2, 2016 murder operation.
The telecommunications evidence also demonstrates that David Castillo used his military intelligence background to develop a line of direct communication with Berta in order to evaluate options to neutralize her advocacy in defense of the Lenca indigenous communities. The information he learned was used in attempts to convince her, to bribe her, to discredit her, to intimidate her, and finally to inform the planning of the murder.
Further, evidence presented in the trial shows that DESA executives under Castillo’s direction – principally the Environmental and Social Manager Sergio Rodríguez, and the former head of security of the company, Douglas Bustillo – established communication with a network of informants to closely monitor Berta’s activities and plans, and reported back to David Castillo. Both men were convicted in 2018 for their participation in the murder.
The evidence also demonstrates that additional members of the criminal structure were participants in Berta’s murder. During the current trial of Castillo, DESA Chief Financial Officer Daniel Atala refused to testify, claiming that as the object of a criminal investigation himself, he was protected from self incrimination. Nevertheless, over 5 years after Caceres’ murder, there have been no additional indictments against members of this criminal network.
David Castillo is also one of six people awaiting trial for corruption charges related to the construction of the Agua Zarca project that Lenca indigenous farmers organized in COPINH sought to stop, with Berta’s help. COPINH, which represents the Lenca people who were impacted by the project, has been excluded from the legal process as victims. COPINH clearly has the right under Honduran law to participate in the process, and that participation is critical to ensuring due process and full prosecution. It is vital that when the trial starts, which is expected to be immediately following the conclusion of the murder trial, COPINH is allowed to participate in the process as victims.
It is essential that the final decision on the David Castillo trial and other ongoing investigations into Berta’s murder be monitored closely by the international community. Progress in achieving accountability for Berta Caceres’ murder is fundamentally important for progress toward justice and protection for human rights defenders and other activists in Honduras.