Three of the five men arrested last week in connection with the assassination of indigenous activist Berta Cáceres work for either the DESA Corporation, against whom Cáceres had protested for their plans to build a hydroelectric dam on Lenca territory, or the Honduran military that was also accused of beating and harassing Cáceres and other activists.
In 2013 Cáceres also had charged one of the recently arrested men with threatening and harassing her as a way of stopping the protests.
The arrests started on Monday, May 2 when the Honduran Public Ministry announced the capture of Douglas Bustillo, Mariano Díaz Chávez, Edilson Duarte and Sergio Rodríguez. Emerson Duarte, twin brother of Edilson Duarte, was also arrested on Saturday, May 7.
All five men were charged with participating in the assassination of Cáceres. The fact that two of them were employed by DESA (one of whom is retired military), and one active duty soldier is seen as very significant by those trying to unravel the plot against Cáceres and the protests.
Rodriguez, is head of the environmental department of DESA. Bustillo is DESA’s Assistant Director of Security and an ex-military officer. Díaz Chávez is an active duty soldier in the Honduran Army and is listed as an instructor for the military police as well as part of Special Forces.
The two other men charged in the murder, brothers Edilson and Emerson Duarte, have been described by local press as gang members.
Not long after the arrests both the DESA Corporation and the Honduran Military issued press statements asserting that they had nothing to do with the assassination.
According to an interview by Cáceres in 2013, the activist said she had kept messages on her cell phone from Bustillo, and that he had threatened her with sexual assault. Both Cáceres and the organization she directed, the National Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), filed complaints with authorities about these Bustillo’s threats and others.
On Tuesday, May 3, Ricardo Castro, the Director of the Technical Agency of Criminal Investigation which was in charge of the arrests, announced last week that Cáceres was killed as a result of her activism.
When pressed for details about the arrested men, Castro did not give details on who was the head of the assassination plot or who pulled the trigger, but he did assert two points.
“[W]hat I can tell you is that [Cáceres] was killed due to her work,” Castro said.
“The issue of sufficient proof will be decided by the judge but what can be said is that it is overwhelming, scientific and irrefutable, that is to say that there is no doubt,” he added.
While the investigation continues both COPINH and Cáceres’ children are pushing again for an independent investigation of the assassination, and that further attention should be paid to personnel in DESA that were involved with the plot against Cáceres.
International pressure on the Honduran authorities continues. One of the recent efforts came from a group of U.S. Congressional Representatives.
“America has a responsibility to stand up for human rights at home and abroad. Berta Cáceres was a tireless champion for the most vulnerable in Honduras and her death in March was a terrible loss. Today, I am joining my colleagues in calling on the Honduran government to allow the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to examine the case,” Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) said. “By supporting a full and independent investigation, the Honduran government can send a strong message that they are committed to finding the truth and achieving justice for the family.”
McGovern and 57 of his colleagues in Congress sent a letter on May 3 to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the State Department to make sure that the IACHR would be involved in the investigation.