One year ago, Berta Cáceres was asleep in bed in La Esperanza, Honduras, when gunmen burst into the house and shot her. She died in the arms of Gustavo Castro, a Mexican environmental activist who was injured but pretended to be dead until the murderers had gone. Instead of being treated as a victim, Castro was regarded as a suspect and prevented from leaving the country. Members of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), which Cáceres led, were also interrogated. Eventually investigators turned their attention to those who had threatened to kill her in the preceding months. Seven arrests were made, but the people who ordered the murder were left untouched. Six weeks ago, Castro filed a petition against the Honduran government for the way it treated him and for its inaction in charging those behind the crime.
There was hope that the international attention given to Cáceres’s death might lead to less violence against environmental activists, but it was short-lived: her colleague Nelson García was shot soon afterwards. In October, a COPINH demonstration demanding protection from the government was met with a tear-gas attack. Days earlier, gunmen had attempted to kill two of COPINH’s leaders. Silmer Dionisio George and José Angel Flores, community leaders in the Aguán Valley, were killed in the same month. Flores’s family produced evidence, gathered over several years, that detailed the operations of a 27-strong death squad, a previous assassination attempt in 2015, their formal complaints to the police and the arrest warrants that had been issued but never implemented. Court documents have recently been leaked showing that Cáceres might also have been killed by a death squad with military links.