The first trial for the murder of Honduran Indigenous activist Berta Caceres was suspended on Monday in Tegucigalpa. Caceres was assassinated on Mar. 2, 2016 in La Esperanza in western Honduras, after battling for years to stop the construction of an internationally-financed hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River which the Lenca people consider sacred.
The oral and public trial of the eight suspects implicated in the murder of Honduran environmental activist was suspended on Monday due to the filing of five appeals and a recusal of the ruling court.
Honduran Supreme Court spokesman Melvin Duarte said the hearing had been suspended "despite the fact that the oral and public trial opened appropriately."
He also stressed that a continuity of the trial date cannot be announced until the Court of Appeals resolves the appeals and the recusal that have been presented.
Hydroelectric Exec Sent to Preventive Prison for Caceres Murder
On Sunday, prior to the trial, Black Honduran Garifunas, an Amerindian ethnic group, gathered in front of the Supreme Court to hold a religious ceremony calling for justice for Berta. Around 200 people gathered in front of the building, creating an altar decorated with lights and a photo of the ‘guardian of the rivers’.
The trial will be monitored by an international group of lawyers for possible violations of national and international standards. Lawyers from the U.S., Spain, Guatemala, France, and Canada will be present.
The accused are Emerson Duarte Meza, Edilson Atilio Duarte Meza, Elvin Heriberto Rapalo Orellana, Henrry Javier Hernandez, Oscar Aroldo Torres Velasquez, Mariano Diaz Chavez, Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, and Sergio Ramon Rodriguez Orellana. Some are former employees of the DESA company, in charge of constructing the hydroelectric dam while others are military officers.
Caceres, the coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh) led an opposition to the construction of Agua Zarca dam. The dam was licensed to the company Desarrollos Energeticos (DESA). The opposition by Caceres triggered a wave of repression including violent evictions, surveillance, sexual harassment, false criminal charges, multiple death threats leading to her murder.
Gustavo Castro, a Mexican environmentalist, was also shot in the attack but he survived by feigning death. The attempt on his life is also being tried in court.
The murder of the activist drew widespread international attention and condemnation and led to Honduras being ranked as the most dangerous country in the world for environment and land rights defenders.
DESA denies any link with the murder and claims that their employees have been wrongfully targeted as a result of a smear campaign. However, the family of the murdered activist claims that prosecutors withheld crucial evidence to conceal a wider criminal conspiracy. The family also urged the authorities to conduct a broad investigation to find the culprits for the campaign of terror against Caceres and Copinh.
At pre-trial public hearings in Tegucigalpa last week, the court rejected petitions by the family’s lawyers to allow expert witness testimony about the roles, responsibilities, and connections between the accused as part of an alleged criminal structure. The court also rejected requests to call Desa’s financial manager, Daniel Atala, and members of the board as witnesses.
Bertita Zuniga Caceres, the daughter of the murdered social leader, condemned the actions of the court and said this is being done to conceal the full truth. The family is also convinced that the authorities do not want to expand the investigation because they are senior officials of the company and even the Honduran government.
In March, DESA’s executive president David Castillo Mejia was charged with masterminding the crime but he will face a separate trial.