I sadly missed a DC event a few days ago, where an investigation of international legal experts revealed that company executives and state agents plotted to kill Berta Cáceres, the Honduran indigenous, labor and environmental activist who was murdered in March 2016. And needless to say, there is a powerful U.S. connection to this tragedy.
The event was held at the National Press Club and sponsored by the always reliable Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Members of Cáceres’s family were on hand to hear the results of a probe by the International Advisory Group of Experts (GAIPE), which has been investigating the murder. Their report, which included fresh evidence, concluded that “powerful individuals” appear to have been involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Cáceres. (Here’s a copy of the full report, in Spanish.)
“It is shameful that despite intense domestic and international pressure, this horrific case has languished, while those responsible have sought to derail it,” Senator Patrick Leahy said, not directly to me, of the report. “And there are hundreds of other Honduran social activists and journalists who have been similarly threatened and killed, whose cases have not even prompted investigations.”
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky released a statement in response to the report, which said:
Berta Caceres was murdered in cold blood almost two years ago, and justice has yet to be served. The report gives us clear and unequivocal evidence of how carefully orchestrated the assassination plot was and how rampant the impunity has been.
Now it is time for justice to be served. The Honduran government should know that the world is watching, and that their mishandling of this crucial trial will not go unnoticed. An ally of the United States like Honduras must commit to fostering an independent press, an impartial judicial system, and a robust and free civil society.
It’s a fine statement, though the last sentence is unintentionally and painfully funny since the United States government over the years has done more to destroy democracy and “a robust and free civil society” in Honduras than any other entity on the planet.
Dan Beeton, a CEPR spokesman, told me (lightly edited):
The Honduran authorities haven’t done a real investigation and revealed who the intellectual authors of the crime are, which is why the GAIPE was put together to do an independent investigation. The GAIPE was able to get a hold of cell phone evidence from some of the people who have been implicated in the murder and in the thousands of call logs, text messages, Whats App messages, and metadata, they were able to find evidence of a much broader plot than previously revealed.
Importantly, it reveals that high-level members of the DESA company, which seeks to build the dams on the Gualcarque River that Berta and her community were opposing, were involved in planning the assassination. State actors were also involved.
While much remains unknown about the murder, it may be US-trained soldiers were involved, as a Honduran soldier-turned-whistleblower told The Guardian last year. The U.S. has continued to pour money in, despite controversies around the dam projects that Berta opposed and that she died for opposing, as well as developments in areas like the Aguan Valley, where over 100 campesinos have been murdered by police and security forces working to protect the interests of the Facusse family, Honduras’ most powerful, and other major landowners in the area.