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News > Latin America

Mexican Activist Who Witnessed Caceres Death Fears for His Life

  • A man holds up a photo of slain activist Berta Caceres over her coffin after the morgue released her body in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 3, 2016.

    A man holds up a photo of slain activist Berta Caceres over her coffin after the morgue released her body in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 3, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 March 2016

Mexican national Gustavo Castro, who was left for dead by Caceres murderers, says the crime scene at Berta's home has been tampered with.

Mexican activist Gustavo Castro Soto, key witness of the assassination of prominent Honduran environmental defender Berta Caceres because he was at her home when hitmen stormed in to kill her and left him for dead with wounds to his head and hand, has warned that the crime scene has been tampered with.

“I didn’t hear cars arrive or leave at the time of the assassination, the crime scene was modified and altered,” wrote Castro in a letter published in local media. “The blood and other tests left blank lines that later can be altered.”

While Castro did not expand on the details proving the scene of the murder has been tampered with, he did say that he feels authorities are uncomfortable with his testimony because, according to him, it "obstructs them from accusing who they want to put in jail."

And although Honduran authorities have vowed to find those responsible for the crime and launched an investigation, family members and supporters remain highly skeptical that they will handle the case in a thorough and impartial manner that ensures justice.

Castro also said he fears for his life in Honduras and that local authorities have barred him from returning to Mexico. He also implied he doesn't trust police by saying he feels safer with Caceres sympathizers than with a thousand Honduran police officers, whom he accused of forgetting he is a victim.

Castro was with Caceres at the time of the murder last Thursday morning and was wounded by gunshots. “The hitman know that I didn't die,” Castro wrote, “and surely they will be willing to complete their task.”

The Mexican sociologist added that while many people from Caceres’ Indigenous organization COPINH have been asked to testify, those long suspected of leveling death threats against Caceres and trying to kill her have not faced the same scrutiny.

“The hitmen who assassinated Berta and that attempted to assassinate me remain unpunished while the government seeks to undermine Berta’s memory, the honor and magnificent struggle that COPINH has waged for many years in defense of life, territory, and human rights,” Castro wrote.

Honduran authorities have barred Castro from returning to Mexico, while human rights defenders and social justice organizations have widely called for his protection.

The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights has called for precautionary measures to protect Castro, members of Caceres’ family, and members of COPINH, saying their lives could be at risk.

“They are in a situation of gravity and urgency, since their life and personal integrity would be threatened and at risk,” IACHR said in a statement.

Caceres also had precautionary measures from the IACHR leading up to her death that mandated police protection in light of the repeated and credible death threats and harassment she received.

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Two FBI agents joined the investigation on Sunday. Family members and supporters have called for the participation of independent and international experts.

Many rights defenders have argued that even though the names of the perpetrators are not known, corporate and state interests are ultimately behind the murder.

One of Caceres’ daughters, Olivia Zuniga Caceres, has pegged the blame on Desa-Sinohydro, the Honduran-Chinese joint venture developing a hydro-elecric dam in Rio Blanco, where Caceres’ was leading a community resistance movement against the unwanted project.

Castro also linked the murder to corporate interests, saying authorities have not shown his photos of the “business owners or their hitmen.”

“The murder of Berta could mean an opportunity for many companies and interests to advance their territories,” he wrote. “But COPINH is stronger than ever and will need solidarity of all to join the struggle, with solidarity and with the memory of Berta in our hands.”

Castro concluded his letter with a resolve to continue to work for justice despite the many challenges.

“For Berta, for COPINH,” Castro wrote. “Because one day justice will be served and the projects of death and destruction will be expelled from the territories.”

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