Thursday March 3, 2016, La Esperanza Intibucá Honduras
Berta Cáceres, founder and General Coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Honduras (COPINH), and Gustavo Castro Soto, of the organization Otros Mundos AC / Friends of the Earth Mexico, the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (REMA) and the Mesoamerican Movement against the Mining Extractive Model (M4) were victims of an assault with a firearm that resulted in the death of Berta and serious injury to Gustavo. The assault was perpetrated inside the home of our colleague. A group of armed men entered through the back door forcing the door open, and shot at both comrades.
The first shots hit Berta, leading to her death. Gustavo Castro received two bullet wounds, one of which grazed his cheek and the other, his hand. He fell to the floor feigning his death. Scared by the situation, Castro left the scene and sought refuge in a secure place where he notified others about his situation and later received help from his fellows at COPINH.
Between 7:30 and 8:00 am, the police and the army arrived to check the crime scene and confirm the death of Berta, as well as several colleagues, family, and friends who watched on with indignation as the experts and authorities acted with arrogance.The chief of investigation approached the scene with an aggressive attitude provoking a verbal confrontation with the fellows of the organization. Similarly, while leaving the crime scene, the police insinuated that the incident was a robbery. Berta’s body was wrapped in plastic and thrown to the back of a gray van devoid of any identification pertaining to a public institution; without respect for the deceased companion, the mourning family, or the friends present.
In the course of the morning, Aureliano Molina Villanueva of San Francisco Lempira, COPINH militant base, arrived at the scene and was required by the National Preventive Police of La Esperanza Intibucá to testify. Due to the insistence of the friends that Villanueva not meet this requirement, he was accompanied by his father Aureliano Molina and brother-in-law. He was taken to the police headquarters in town and so far is being held as an alleged suspect in the murder. When asked what the charges are against him, the organization was told that there are no stated charges but they have 24 hours to do an investigation.
Berta’s lifeless body was transferred to the office of La Esperanza’s District Attorney around 9:00 am, after which it was moved to Siguapeteque and finally to Tegucigalpa for autopsy. Gustavo decided to wait for the arrival of the prosecutors for ethnic groups to give his statement due to a lack of confidence in the judicial institutions of Hondura. He refused to testify before other bodies. He was not treated by a doctor until noon. During the course of the afternoon, the prosecutor for ethnic groups arrived where Gustavo had taken refuge to make his testimony. Then he was taken to the district attorney’s office where he remains now.
In spite of the ongoing investigation by the prosecutors in the area, COPINH demands a clear investigation to be conducted independently of the Honduran state, doubting its credibility.
Members of COPINH report that they have been threatened since December by people self described as hired hitmen by the Company DESA. In the last six months, they confirm that Berta received threats constantly. These threats escalated in intensity, with bullets shot at the car, and messages and direct verbal threats from the army, the police, the mayor Raul Pineda, and the Company DESA.
During the morning of the crime, the Ministry of National Security declared that Berta was given precautionary measures by the Inter - American Court of Human Rights Commission. However, they claimed that the director had rejected such protection and that at the time of the attacks, she was found in a house not registered as her own and therefore could not be guarded. Thus, the authorities disclaim their obligation to protect Berta from any attack and blame her for her own death. At the same time, it is possible that the strategy of the judicial institutions is to blame the partner Aureliano Molina Villanueva for committing a crime of passion against Berta, in addition to fabricating evidence to point to other members of the COPINH as guilty or accomplices of the crime.
At this time, COPINH is on high alert, fearing for the safety of Gustavo Castro and the members of the organization who live under constant harassment for opposing the dispossession of their territory. This attack is a clear sign of the increasing repression of people who fight for nature and oppose the transnational companies that plunder Honduras.
We call for national and international solidarity to continue taking action to help stop and denounce the aggressive policies of the state, the privatization strategies of transnational and systematic violation of the rights of the Lenca people.
We call for peaceful but forceful demonstrations of our autonomy and self -determination. We continue mobilizing in defense of the common good of nature.
We reaffirm our struggle for the Gulacarque River!
We reaffirm our commitment to life!
We demand justice!
We demand an end to impunity!
We demand an independent investigation with international judges and experts!
We demand the immediate departure of the paramilitary unit “Los Tigres” from the White River!
We demand to stop training and paramilitary activity supported by foreign governments throughout the country!
We demand to stop the persecution of those who defend the rights of indigenous peoples and of the entire society!
We demand the necessary changes in our country!
We demand the respect for life!
WITH THE ANCESTRAL FORCE OF LEMPIRA, MOTA, ENTEMPICA, WE LIFT OUR VOICES FILLED WITH LIFE, JUSTICE, DIGNITY AND PEACE.
BERTA CACERES LIVES.