It has been almost one month since the cowardly assassination of our beloved Berta Caceres, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend and environmental and human rights leader.
Our family is grateful for the many messages and acts of condolence from hundreds, if not thousands, of you. Additionally, we are grateful to Gustavo Castro, the one material witness to the crime, for his bravery and are relieved that he is reunited with his family in Mexico.
However, we have yet to receive any kind of justice or respect, as we search for answers, from the Honduran government. Repeated formal and informal requests for information about the investigation that we should be provided with, according to Honduran law, have been denied without an explanation.
In 2014 a Honduran NGO found that less than 4% of all murder cases resulted in a conviction. Given the massive corruption within the Honduran government, and given the fact that many threats and attacks against Berta and her organization COPINH involved members of state security forces and agents of private companies with links to high-level Honduran officials, it is highly unlikely that the intellectual authors of this assassination will ever be brought to justice.
This is why since Berta’s murder we have demanded that the Honduran government agree to allow an independent international investigation with a mandate, to conduct its own investigation, similar to the group of independent experts investigating the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico. The Honduran authorities are incapable of carrying out such a task in a neutral and professional manner.
We are dismayed that the US government – despite appeals from our family, more than 60 members of Congress and 11 U.S. senators, and from over 250 domestic and international NGOs – continues to express support in the Honduran investigative “process.”
State Department spokesperson John Kirby remarked on March 29: “it was noteworthy that they [Honduran government] reached out to the UN for support. I mean, […] that’s not insignificant.”
This statement is misleading. The UN support the Honduran government has sought is from a body – the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – whose mandate is to prevent human rights violations and document abuses, not to conduct criminal investigations , or ensure that criminal investigations are professional and fair.
Lastly, we as a family have desperately sought obtain the most basic information regarding the current Honduran investigation into Berta’s assassination, including a simple list of Berta’s personal belongings that authorities have seized, and a complete autopsy report as well as a raw copy of the existing video of the autopsy. One of the individuals responsible for denying us access to this and other information regarding the investigation is Honduras’ Director of Public Attorneys Jose Arturo Duarte. Mr. Duarte has represented Desarrollos Energéticos Sociedad Anónima (DESA) in legal proceedings against COPINH, the very same company, that built the dam Berta and COPINH where fighting against and whose employees threatened Berta. It was only after Berta’s daughters revealed this major conflict of interest in a public letter that Duarte announced his withdrawal from the investigation on March 31st. The State Department was aware of this major conflict of interest, yet continues to show confidence in the Honduran investigation.
Our pursuit of justice will once again take us to Washington next Monday April 4th as Berta Zuñiga Cáceres, Berta Cáceres’ daughter, COPINH member, Tomás Gómez and Silvio Carrillo, Berta Cáceres’ nephew, speak with lawmakers, international banking institutions, NGOs and the State Department.
As painful as Bertita’s assassination is for our family this event is now an opportunity to begin pushing back hard against Honduras’ pervasive corruption, impunity and lack of rule of law. The U.S. government has enormous leverage in Honduras, through its assistance programs and veto power over multilateral loans. It’s time for the U.S. to begin using that leverage to promote justice and stop the killing of social activists rather than continuing to hand the Honduran government a blank check to carry on with business as usual.