Four men have been detained in Honduras by local authorities investigating the murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres in March.
The arrests came as raids were carried out in Tegucigalpa, La Ceiba y Trujillo and Colón on Monday as part of Operation Jaguar, according to a Public Ministry statement.
All four men went before a judge on Monday. Aside from the murder of Cáceres, the four stand accused of the attempted murder of her friend, Gustavo Castro, a director for Friends of the Earth in Mexico, who was staying with the activist the night she was killed.
Two of the suspects reportedly possess links to the company constructing the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, which Berta Cáceres had vehemently fought against, prompting numerous threats.
Sergio Ramón Rodríguez Orellana is an engineer for company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) which has been tasked with building the dam. He had allegedly threatened Cáceres following a protest which she led on behalf of the indigenous Lenca community in conjunction with the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH). Cáceres denounced DESA to local authorities for their alleged attempts to intimidate and subdue her activities.
Meanwhile, Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, a retired military officer officer, was previously head of security for DESA. The two other individuals were detained are Mariano Díaz Chávez, an active member the armed forces, and Edison Atilio Duarte Meza, a former military officer.
Following the detentions, Cáceres’ family has requested independent international oversight into the handling of the case. “As we have been excluded from the investigation since it began, we are unable to determine if the arrests are due to exhaustive procedures,” the family wrote in a statement yesterday. “The lack of confidence we still have in the Public Ministry has been formed due to its own opaque actions and for ignoring us as victims.”
Cáceres’ daughter, Laura, told The Guardian: “the Honduran state is too closely linked to the murder of my mother to carry out an independent investigation. It is the government who was awarded the dam commission and the government who sent military and police to work with DESA’s private security guards, who threatened my mother.”
She continued: “If it wasn’t for our struggle and the international pressure for justice, my mother’s murder would already be extinct. We have woken up to this news but it doesn’t change our demands for an international investigation”.
Honduran authorities have officially rejected an offer by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to provide assistance.
In a statement released in the day after Cáceres murder the IACHR stated: “The Honduran State has the obligation to investigate this deplorable murder in a serious, prompt and efficient manner and to include lines of investigation which consider her work as a human rights defender as the motive of the crime…This murder must not go unpunished.”
Cáceres had previously received 33 death threats during her campaign against the Agua Zarca dam and in 2015 was awarded the Goldman Environmental prize.
According to NGO Global Witness, Honduras remains one of the most dangerous Latin American countries for environmental activists.
It is reported that 109 murders took place between 2010 and 2015.