Last year’s death of Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres closely resembles that of a planned extrajudicial killing by Honduran military forces with links to U.S.-trained special forces, according to newly leaked court documents.
An investigation into Caceres’ murder launched by the Guardian looked at court documents of the eight men who were arrested in connection with the murder. Three of the suspects had served in the military, and one was a key figure in the hydroelectric dam which Caceres helped to lead an indigenous struggle against.
The new allegations center around Major Mariano Díaz, a veteran of the country’s special forces who was chief of army intelligence and was quickly arrested and discharged from his post. According to the leak, Diaz was in close contact with another suspect Lt. Douglas Giovanny Bustillo. Both served together and received U.S. training.
Former special forces sniper Sgt. Henry Javier Hernandez was also named a suspect. Hernandez worked under Diaz and prosecutors suspect that he also worked as an informant for military intelligence once he left the army in 2013.
According to phone records and Hernandez’s testimony, he and Bustillo had visited Carceres’ hometown of La Esperanza on a number of occasion in the weeks leading up to her murder last year.
Sergio Rodriguez, a manager at the DESA-Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam – the project which Caceres focused her struggle against – was also named as a suspect. The company behind the project, DESA, previously employed Bustillo as its head of security.
Others from the company have state and military connections with company president Roberto David Castillo Mejia, a former military intelligence officer, and company secretary Roberto Pacheco Reyes, a former justice minister.
Despite a lack of consent from the local Lenca community, licenses for the Agua Zarca Dam and another dam were granted in 2010. Caceres received numerous death threats over her activism against the dam and at the time was supposedly under the protection of the state, but was killed on March 3, 2016.
At the time of the murder, a number of armed men broke into the house where Caceres and Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro were staying and shot her three times. Castro and Caceres´ family claim that DESA, in connection with the Honduran government, hired contract killers to murder Caceres and other environmental and indigenous activists.
But while state authorities and the military have continually denied their involvement in the murder and the wider use of death squads targeting activists, a source from the Guardian investigation said that the murder “has all the characteristics of a well-planned operation designed by military intelligence, where it is absolutely normal to contract civilians as assassins.”
“It’s inconceivable that someone with her high profile, whose campaign had made her a problem for the state, could be murdered without at least implicit authorization of military high command,” the source continued.
Earlier this week, Amnesty International criticized the Honduran state for a “scandalous lack of an effective investigation” into Carceres' murder and a failure to protect human rights and environmental activists within the country.
According to a January 2017 report by human and environmental rights group Global Witness, Honduras is the deadliest country in the world for environmental activists, with over 120 activists murdered since the 2009 U.S.-backed military coup that ousted former President Manuel Zelaya.