TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Honduran authorities arrested four people Monday in the killing of environmental activist Berta Caceres, including an active duty army officer and at least one man who worked for a hydroelectric project she opposed.
A spokesman for the public prosecutor’s office, Yuri Mora, said the three did work for or were direct employees of Desarrollos Energeticos SA, also known as DESA, which was developing the project that Caceres’ organization successfully stopped.
The Hidroelectrica Agua Zarca Company, which is managed by DESA, said in a statement that only one of the men was employed by the firm, and denied it had anything to do with Caceres’ killing.
The Goldman Environmental Prize-winning activist was shot dead March 3 by gunmen who invaded her home. Caceres had reported death threats from security personnel for the company, which is known as DESA.
Caceres’ children and the group she founded, the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras, said in a statement that they wanted an international group of experts from the Inter American Human Rights Commission to participate in the investigation, because “we do not know if these arrests reach all the levels of the masterminds” behind the killing.
Mora identified those arrested as Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, Mariano Diaz Chavez, Sergio Rodriguez Orellana and Edilson Duarte Meza.
Hidroelectrica Agua Zarca said only Sergio Rodriguez worked for the company, as the manager for social and environmental issues. “We trust that all of our employees’ actions are always within the bounds of law,” the company said.
The firm said that “under no circumstances is Hidroelectrica Agua Zarca responsible, nor did it have any material or intellectual links to the killing.”
In a December 2013 video interview, Caceres told the Swedish journalist Dick Emanuelsson that she had text messages in her phone from Bustillo, who she identified as the hydroelectric project’s security chief, threatening her with sexual assault.
Lenin Gonzalez, a spokesman for the armed forces, said at a news conference that Diaz Chavez is an active infantry major and Duarte Meza is a retired infantry captain.
The U.S. Embassy in Honduras said in a statement that it welcomed the arrests.
Caceres led the defence of the Gualcarque River in western Honduras, which is considered sacred by the Lenca people, who successfully fought to halt the proposed Agua Zarca dam.
“The news of the alleged participation of current and former military personnel with ties to the DESA company appears to demonstrate the involvement of government forces in the killing, which is something that should be investigated further,” her family said in a statement. “This is reason enough to immediately and definitively cancel the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project.”