A Grand Companion
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A judge in Honduras recently sentenced Roberto David Castillo, a top business executive and graduate of the US Military Academy at West Point, to 22.5 years in prison for his role in the 2016 murder of Berta Caceres, an indigenous leader and environmental activist. Castillo ran the company that was building a hydroelectric dam on indigenous land in northwestern Honduras. Caceres led an effort to prevent the dam’s construction.
The hit squad that took Caceres’ life appeared to have used skills that Castillo would have picked up while studying at the US military institute. Certainly, his business success in the country reflected a savvy use of his military contacts. “His career illustrates what soldiers with connections can do in nations like Honduras, which has become notorious for its murder rate, state-sponsored violence and political impunity,” wrote the Guardian.
The late Caceres, meanwhile, has become a world-renowned hero among left-wing activists, as this Socialist Worker story illustrated.
Caceres’ family was happy about the sentencing. But they want investigators to find other members of the conspiracy. “The sentence reaffirms the importance of the need to look for the intellectual authors of the killing,” Bertha Zuniga Caceres, Berta’s daughter, told Al Jazeera. “But 22 years is nothing compared to the loss of a grand companera (companion), my mother.”
The younger Caceres has pushed for a criminal probe into the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO), which had financed the dam and was allegedly complicit in a number of murders in connection with the project. The Intercept reported how the Dutch bank had wired millions of dollars to Honduras in the days leading up to the murder, suggesting a link.
Meanwhile, professional assassins are not only targeting leftwing activists in Honduras: Gunmen recently shot and killed the son of former Honduran President Porfirio Lobo as well as three other well-connected men, the Associated Press noted. Lobo’s wife, Rosa Elena Bonilla, was allowed out of prison to attend the funeral. She was convicted of embezzling more than $1 million in public money while she was the country’s first lady. The family has long had ties to organized crime, Insight Crime reported.
President Xiomara Castro, who won office early this year, has pledged to end the culture of violence and injustice in the Central American country. Writing in Foreign Policy, Mexico City-based writer Nili Blanck was hopeful she could help the country switch gears. But Human Rights Watch recently penned a letter to Castro exhorting her to move faster.
Half measures won’t end a culture of impunity.