By Albinson Linares
From a very young age, Bertha Zúniga Cáceres knew the dangers faced by people who defend rivers, jungles, forests and territories. She saw how many of her parents’ friends disappeared, how they were killed, tortured and threatened for defending the environment. But nothing could prepare her for midnight on March 2, 2016, when two armed men entered her home in the city of La Esperanza, some 200 kilometers from Tegucigalpa, and shot and killed her mother, the renowned Honduran activist Berta Cáceres.
“We feel fear after experiencing a murder as close as that of my mom, who is a person with great international recognition, that is something that impresses you forever,” said Zúniga, 28, in an interview with Noticias Telemundo on Monday. “However, that doesn’t prevail in my day-to-day life, but rather to do justice, to see how many people are being criminalized, persecuted, judicialized, and that is a motive for transforming our country.
On Monday, December 2, a Honduran court sentenced seven people to between 30 and 50 years for the shooting murder of Berta Cáceres, who for years fought against the construction of the Zarca Water Hydroelectric Project in the community of Río Blanco, which would affect the natural resources of the Gualcarque River, a body of sacred water for the Lenca Indians, an ethnic group to which Cáceres also belonged.
“It is the poorest sentence that the State of Honduras could have given in the face of a crime that has had great national and international repercussions,” says Zúniga. “It fills us with indignation to know that the Honduran State had the opportunity to judge those most responsible and break the pattern of impunity that has existed in this country, but there is really no political will to do so”.
Four of the defendants, all men, were sentenced to 50 years in prison and four months in prison, another two to 30 years and six months, and one was sentenced to 30 years. “Beyond the years they can be given in prison, in the midst of all the struggle that has become so strong, it seems that with the sentence they want to create a smokescreen to show that justice has now been done and silence this strong demand for integral justice,” said Zúniga.
Various Honduran and international media have pointed out that, according to the country’s laws, the defense has 20 days to file an appeal against the sentence.
Do you feel that justice has been done in the case of your mother’s murder?
We ask for life imprisonment for the murderers of Berta Cáceres because the crime of murder demands this maximum sentence. This is not a rage against the perpetrators who are ultimately paid persons or instruments of other interests, but as a message of justice. In addition, there are those responsible, such as Pedro, José Eduardo, Jacobo and Daniel Atala, who are four more people who clearly have links with the board of DESA, the company in charge of the hydroelectric project.
In another trial on the case, Roberto David Castillo, former executive president of DESA who was in charge of the construction of the hydroelectric dam, was identified as the intellectual author of the murder.
Allegedly there are investigations about him and others but the authorities have never given any specific details about what kind of investigations or diligences have been carried out. We demand the capture of the intellectual authors and denounce that this criminal structure is still in force and has not been dismantled. The State of Honduras has decided to play the role of an obstacle in the path of justice when it should be an ally in this process in order to break with impunity.
What irregularities have been detected in this judicial process?
It has been very hard because not only is it a question of addressing a murder but also we have to confront all the negligence and malicious actions of the government that has wanted to hide information, divert the crime from its origin and try to silence the search for justice with this process that still does not determine the responsibilities of the highest executors who ordered and paid for the crime.
How has the environmental struggle in Honduras changed after this crime?
My mom said that in this country we cannot naturalize violence or death, nor should we let them sow terror in us because actions like this murder seek to end the struggle of the Lenca people, of the indigenous peoples in Honduras and the social struggles so we must continue until we find truth, justice and reparation. The idea is that this should not only be a case, but that it should be a reason for Honduras to stop being a state of violence and terror and transform itself into a democratic state of sovereignty and tranquility. That is what the population wants and that is why Bertha’s struggle remains in force.
You are also an activist and leader of environmental causes. How far are you willing to go in the struggle of the indigenous peoples of Honduras?
Unfortunately, this situation is not something that one has decided, it is what we had to live but we don’t want other families, organizations, peoples and individuals to have to live it, to honour the memory of Berta Cáceres we have to make all possible efforts. We want to live in a place where our rights are respected because we do not want to die for our ideals and the fight against the powers.