Posts Tagged ‘DESA’

Nina Lakhani’s “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?” reviewed

June 10, 2020

COHA

COHA of 9 June 2020 published a Book Review by John Perry of “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet,” by Nina Lakhani.

They build dams and kill people.” These words, spoken by a witness when the murderers of environmental defender Berta Cáceres were brought to trial in Honduras, describe Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA), the company whose dam project Berta opposed. DESA was created in May 2009 solely to build the Agua Zarca hydroelectric scheme, using the waters of the Gualcarque River, regarded as sacred by the Lenca communities who live on its banks. As Nina Lakhani makes clear in her book Who Killed Berta Cáceres?, DESA was one of many companies to benefit from the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras, when the left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya was deposed and replaced by a sequence of corrupt administrations. The president of DESA and its head of security were both US-trained former Honduran military officers, schooled in counterinsurgency. By 2010, despite having no track record of building dams, DESA had already obtained the permits it needed to produce and sell electricity, and by 2011, with no local consultation, it had received its environmental licence.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/03/anniversary-sparks-arrest-in-investigation-of-berta-caceres-murder/].

..Lakhani quotes a high-ranking judge she spoke to, sacked for denouncing the 2009 coup, as saying that Zelaya was deposed precisely because he stood in the way of this economic model and the roll-out of extractive industries that it required. The coup “unleashed a tsunami of environmentally destructive ‘development’ projects as the new regime set about seizing resource-rich territories.” After the post-coup elections, the then president Porfirio Lobo declared Honduras open for business, …….

Lakhani’s book gives us an insight into the personal history that brought Berta Cáceres to this point. She came from a family of political activists. As a teenager she read books on Marxism and the Cuban revolution. But Honduras is unlike its three neighbouring countries where there were strong revolutionary movements in the 1970s and 1980s. The US had already been granted free rein in Honduras in exchange for “dollars, training in torture-based interrogation methods, and silence.” At the age of only 18, looking for political inspiration and action, Berta left Honduras and went with her future husband Salvador Zúñiga to neighbouring El Salvador. She joined the FMLN guerrilla movement and spent months fighting against the US-supported right-wing government. Zúñiga describes her as having been “strong and fearless” even when the unit they were in came under attack. But in an important sense, her strong political convictions were tempered by the fighting: she resolved that “whatever we did in Honduras, it would be without guns.”

Inspired also by the Zapatista struggle in Mexico and by Guatemala’s feminist leader Rigoberta Menchú, Berta and Salvador created COPINH in 1993 to demand indigenous rights for the Lenca people, organising their first march on the capital Tegucigalpa in 1994. From this point Berta began to learn of the experiences of Honduras’s other indigenous groups, especially the Garífuna on its northern coast, and saw how they fitted within a pattern repeated across Latin America….

In Río Blanco, where the Lenca community voted 401 to 7 against the dam, COPINH’s struggle continued. By 2013, the community seemed close to winning, at the cost of activists being killed or injured by soldiers guarding the construction. They had blocked the access road to the site for a whole year and the Chinese engineering firm had given up its contract. The World Bank allegedly pulled its funding, although Lakhani shows that its money later went back into the project via a bank owned by the Atala Faraj family. In April 2015 Berta was awarded the Goldman Prize for her “grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.”

…….

The horrific events on the night of Wednesday March 2 are retold by Nina Lakhani. Armed men burst through the back door of Berta’s house and shot her. They also injured Gustavo Castro, who was visiting Berta; he waited until the men had left, found her, and she died in his arms. ,,,By the first anniversary of Berta’s death the stuttering investigation had led to eight arrests, but the people who ordered the murder were still enjoying impunity. Some of the accused were connected to the military, which was not surprising since Lakhani later revealed in a report for The Guardian that she had uncovered a military hit list with Berta’s name on it. In the book she reports that the ex-soldier who told her about it is still in hiding: he had seen not only the list but also one of the secret torture centers maintained by the military.

Nina Lakhani is a brave reporter. She had to be. Since the coup in Honduras, 83 journalists have been killed; 21 were thrown in prison during the period when Lakhani was writing her book. She poses the question “would we ever know who killed Berta Cáceres?” and sets out to answer it. Despite her diligent and often risky investigation, she can only give a partial answer. Those arrested and since convicted almost certainly include the hitmen who carried out the murder, but it is far from the clear that the intellectual authors of the crime have been caught. In 2017 Lakhani interviewed or attempted to interview all eight of those imprisoned and awaiting trial, casting a sometimes-sympathetic light on their likely involvement and why they took part.

….

In September 2018, the murder case finally went to trial, and Lakhani is at court to hear it, but the hearing is suspended. On the same day she starts to receive threats, reported in London’s Press Gazette and duly receiving international attention. Not surprisingly she sees this as an attempt to intimidate her into not covering the trial. Nevertheless, when it reopens on October 25, she is there. The trial reveals a weird mix of diligent police work and careful forensic evidence, together with the investigation’s obvious gaps. Not the least of these was the absence of Gustavo Castro, the only witness, whose return to Honduras was obstructed by the attorney general’s office. Castillo, though by then charged with masterminding the murder, was not part of the trial. Most of the evidence was not made public or even revealed to the accused. The Cáceres family’s lawyers were denied a part in the trial.

The who did what, why and how was missing,” says Lakhani, “until we got the phone evidence which was the game changer.” The phone evidence benefitted from an expert witness who explained in detail how it implicated the accused. She revealed that an earlier plan to carry out the murder in February was postponed. She showed the positions of the accused on the night in the following month when Berta was killed. She also made clear that members of the Atala family were involved.

When the verdict was delivered on November 29 2018, seven of the eight accused were found guilty, but it wasn’t until December 2019 that they were given long sentences. That’s where Nina Lakhani’s story ends. By then Honduras had endured a fraudulent election, its president’s brother had been found guilty of drug running in the US, and tens of thousands of Hondurans were heading north in migrant caravans. David Castillo hasn’t yet been brought to trial, and last year was accused by the School of Americas Watch of involvement in a wider range of crimes. … Daniel Atala Midence, accused by COPINH of being a key intellectual author of the crime as DESA’s chief financial officer, has never been indicted.

...And a full answer to the question “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?” is still awaited.

http://www.coha.org/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-on-the-life-death-and-legacy-of-a-courageous-honduran-indigenous-and-environmental-leader/

Anniversary sparks high-level arrest in investigation of Berta Caceres murder

March 3, 2018

[On 2 March 2016, Berta Cáceres, a courageous defender of the environment and Indigenous rights, was shot dead by gunmen in her home in Intibucá, Honduras.  She campaigned against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project and the impact it would have on the territory of the Indigenous Lenca People. see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/]

A recent report from an independent team of international lawyers hired by the family of Berta Cáceres had exposed serious flaws in the official investigation. The report includes evidence that would implicate high-level business executives and state agents in the crime.  The Honduran Attorney General’s office has arrested eight people in connection to Berta’s murder, including some individuals linked to Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA), the company building the Agua Zarca dam, and others with ties to the military, but COPINH (the NGO Berta worked for) is concerned that no high-ranking officials in the government or the company have been investigated for having allegedly ordered her murder. Ahead of the trial which is scheduled to begin in June, the lawyers of Berta’s family and COPINH have called on the prosecutor office and the judicial authorities to ensure that those responsible for ordering the killing of Berta are also investigated and brought to justice.

Then on the same day as the anniversary of her killing the Honduran authorities (AP reports) arrested Roberto David Castillo Mejia, who at the time of the slaying was executive president of DESA, calling him an intellectual author of the crime. It became the ninth arrest in the killing of Caceres. Two others have been arrested for allegedly impeding the investigation.

The Public Ministry alleges Castillo was “the person in charge of providing logistics and other resources to one of the material authors already being prosecuted for the crime.” In a statement, DESA defended Castillo and its employees as innocent, saying they were “totally unconnected” to the crime and calling the “unjust detention” the result of “international pressure and campaigns by diverse NGOs to discredit the company.”

DESA questioned the coincidence that the arrest came on the second anniversary of Caceres’ killing as her supporters held a protest in Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. Caceres’ relatives said they were certain of Castillo’s guilt.

https://www.amnestyusa.org/press-releases/honduras-failure-to-identify-those-behind-berta-caceres-murder-puts-other-activists-at-risk/

https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/crime/article/Honduras-New-arrest-in-2015-killing-of-activist-12724134.php

http://www.peoplesworld.org/article/continuing-the-battle-berta-caceres-daughter-to-return-to-honduras/

Justice maybe on its way for some Human Rights Defenders in Honduras

January 17, 2014

As reported by Front Line Defenders, on 9 January 2014, the Appeals Court of Comayagua provisionally suspended the case against Honduran human rights defenders Ms Berta Cáceres and Messrs Tomás Gómez and Aureliano Molina.  They had been facing charges of usurpation of land, coercion, and causing more than $3 million in damages to DESA, a hydroelectric dam company. The Court further reversed a decision to displace the indigenous Lenca community from their ancestral lands, and revoked the arrest warrant which had been in place against the human rights defenders. No court date has been set for the final decision in the case. Berta Cáceres is the general co-ordinator of Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Indígenas Populares – COPINH (Civic Council of Popular Indigenous Organisations). Tomás Gómez Membreño and Aureliano Molina are also members of COPINH which is working on land, environmental and indigenous rights, particularly in relation to large-scale development projects.

Front Line Defenders welcomes the provisional suspension but remains concerned that the case has not been permanently suspended. It notes that the case comes in the context  large-scale development projects impinging on environmental rights and the rights of indigenous people, and that the principle of free, prior and informed consent is not being fully respected. [for earlier info: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/22872]