On July 5th, a Honduran court found David Castillo guilty of planning the assassination of my daughter, Bertita Cáceres.
Castillo was one of a group of men who in 2016, carefully planned and carried out my daughter’s murder so that they could build a hydro-electric dam on indigenous land. They killed her in her home, in the middle of the night after she refused to back down from leading the opposition to the dam.
Bertita was always defending the vulnerable. In high school, she formed a human rights group with her classmates and a few years later, she started COPINH, an organization that fights to protect indigenous lands and communities.
As president of DESA, David Castillo led the hydro-electric company’s efforts to build a dam on the Gualcarque river, which is sacred to our Lenca community. Berta’s years-long campaign to halt their exploitation and protect the community brought her death threats and I was afraid for her.
As the danger rose in 2016, I begged her to leave the country so she would be safe, but she shook her head and said, “Mamá, I am not going to run away scared. I am not going to let them win. I am going to finish what I started.”
A few weeks later, they killed her. I am so proud of my daughter and everything she stood for, everything she achieved. But, I miss her so much and I will never forgive those who took her from me.
In my country, justice is hard to come by. The poor and the vulnerable go to prison, while the politically powerful and wealthy corrupt the justice system so they can get away with their crimes. David Castillo’s conviction was a step toward justice that we were not sure would ever come.
The fact that anyone was captured and found responsible for killing my daughter is a testament to what can be achieved when we raise our voices against injustice. Bertita’s work was internationally known and she had recently won the Goldman Environmental Prize. When news of her murder broke, pressure quickly grew to find and punish her killers. COPINH organized protests in Honduras and around the world, many of them led by my grandchildren. We made sure our voices were hard for the Honduran government to ignore.
My son, Gustavo partnered with organizations like the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) and Oxfam to make sure the Attorney General’s investigation into Bertita’s murder moved forward. They even coordinated a trip to Washington, D.C. where they met with Congressional representatives including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Their efforts paid off and in 2018 the seven hitmen who worked together to kill Berta were convicted. We were grateful they were behind bars, but we knew they were just hired men. We wanted those who planned the murder to pay.
The court confirmed that David Castillo was one of those men. He planned Bertita’s murder and communicated by text with the hitmen. His July 5 th conviction brought me immense satisfaction and I am grateful to the prosecutors who worked hard to put together a solid case against him.
But, I know that the plan to kill my beautiful, courageous daughter did not originate with Castillo. Evidence came out during the trial that points to the involvement of others much more powerful.
There is nothing that will bring my daughter back and I will miss her every day for the rest of my life, but I pray that all of those who decided to kill her and contracted men to do their dirty work will be identified, charged and convicted.
Their conviction will be a true sign that justice can be done in Honduras and that no one is above the law.
(Austra Bertha Flores López is a leader for justice in Honduras. She has served her community as a two-term mayor, congresswoman, and governor. Flores López also worked with her daughter, Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, to support the ratification of an international convention to protect the rights of indigenous communities in Honduras.)