Berta Cáceres Murder: Ex-Honduran Military Intelligence Officer Arrested
Above Photo: A man holds a poster during a protest in demand of justice for Berta Cáceres on the second anniversary of her death at the public ministry headquarters in Tegucigalpa on Friday. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images
Note: It is strange this occurred on the anniversary of her murder. It raises questions and doubts. But, we are pleased to see an arrest was made and no surprised it was a former military intelligence officer.
- David Castillo Mejía ran company building controversial dam
- Environmental campaigner Cáceres killed exactly two years ago
David Castillo Mejía, the executive president of the company building a dam which Cáceres campaigned against, is the ninth person arrested for the murder, and the fourth with ties to the Honduran military.
Castillo Mejía is accused by arresting authorities of providing logistical support and other resources to one of the hitmen already charged.
He is the first person to be charged as being the “intellectual author” of Cáceres’s murder and the attempted murder of Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro.
Cáceres was shot in her bedroom just before midnight on 2 March 2016, a year after winning the prestigious Goldman Prize for leading a campaign against the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque river considered sacred by the indigenous Lenca community.
The dam was licensed to the company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (Desa) without the legally required community consultation.
Cáceres had led a campaign of peaceful community resistance against the dam which triggered a wave of repression including smear campaigns, violent evictions, sexual harassment, false criminal charges, and ultimately her murder.
Before her death, Cáceres had said that she was scared of Castillo Mejía because of his military intelligence background. She told close friends and family that Castillo Mejía hounded her with texts, phone calls, and in person, appearing without warning at her home, work events and even the airport.
He was arrested at San Pedro Sula international aiport trying to leave the country, the public ministry confirmed in a tweet alongside a photo of Castillo Mejía in custody.
— Ministerio Público (@MP_Honduras) March 2, 2018
The US ambassador to Honduras Heidi Fulton praised investigators for capturing Castillo Mejía in a series of tweets.
Last September, Castillo Mejía used the same platform to thank the embassy for inviting him to a solar energy conference in Las Vegas. Castillo Mejía attended the event in his capacity as president of the energy company PEMSA (Desarrollador de Proyectos de Energía Eléctrica) – one of two major shareholders in Desa.
A Guardian investigation into the murder found that Cáceres appeared on a military hitlist given to US-backed elite forces just months before she was murdered. The murder was carried out like a “well-planned operation designed by military intelligence”, a legal source told the Guardian last year.
Desa’s board also includes a former justice minister and several members of the Atala Zablah family, part of one of the richest and most powerful clans in Honduras. The company vice-president, Jacobo Nicolás Atala Zablah, is president of the BAC Honduras bank. His cousin Camilo owns the country’s biggest bank, Banco Fichosa.
In a statement Desa said neither it nor its president Castillo Mejía had anything to do with the murder. “The company rejects this decision that is the result of international pressure and smear campaigns from various NGOs towards the company,” the statement said.
Other suspects charged in connection with the murder are Sergio Ramón Rodríguez Orellana, a Desa manager; Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, a former infantry officer and close friend of Mariano Díaz Chávez, a special forces major who fought with coalition forces in Iraq; and former soldier Henry Javier Hernández Rodríguez, the suspected point man on the night of the murder.
The accused hitmen are brothers Edilson and Emerson Duarte Meza, Elvin Heriberto Rápalo Orellana and Óscar Aroldo Torres Velásquez.
News of the arrest broke while protests took place across the country to demand justice for the slain leader – who is one of at least 130 environment and land defenders murdered in Honduras since the 2009 coup.
The Cáceres family has repeatedly condemned authorities for their secrecy and slow progress on the case.
In a statement, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh) – the organisation co-founded by Cáceres 25 years ago and now led by her second eldest daughter Bertita Zúñiga Cáceres – said: “The arrest is thanks to the work and pressure by national and international organisations. No thanks is due to the attorney general’s office, who have tried everything possible to cover up the truth in this case … Copinh will continue to denounce the entire murderous, criminal structure behind the assassination of our sister Berta Cáceres, of which David Castillo is just one piece.”