Former Hydroelectric Dam Company President Charged With Murdering Environmental Activist
Roberto David Castillo Mejía, a former top executive of a Honduran construction firm Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA), was the eighth person charged with the 2016 murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres, Reuters reported.
Castillo Mejía awaits sentencing on Aug. 2, which is expected to be between 24 and 30 years, said The Daily Beast.
Co-founder of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, Cáceres was a well-known grassroots activist and part of the Lenca Indigenous people of Honduras. She was shot dead in her home two days before her 45th birthday after spearheading a campaign that blocked DESA from building the 22-megawatt Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on Indigenous land. The project, which is still slated for the sacred Gualcarque River, did not comply with national and international environmental regulations nor community requirements, but was sanctioned anyway. Castillo Mejía was overseeing the project, which is still frozen, The Guardian reported.
A 2019 study published in Science Advances found that hydroelectric dams “demonstrably affected the stability and productivity of [tropical] estuaries.” The study also highlighted how dams shrink fishery habitat and cause a loss of biodiversity. In undammed rivers, sediment also flows downstream until it’s deposited along the coast, stabilizing the shoreline.
The high court in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, ruled that Cáceres was murdered for leading a campaign that fought the dam, a move that delayed the project and created financial losses for the construction company, according to The Guardian. The year before she was assassinated, Cáceres was awarded the Goldman prize for environmental defenders for her work, according to the BBC.
In December 2019, seven men were charged for their roles in Cáceres’ murder, but Castillo Mejía allegedly “paid the hitmen, gave logistical support and provided resources to those already convicted according to prosecutors,” NPR reported. The court presented documents that showed Castillo Mejía had communicated with Douglas Bustillo, former security chief at DESA, both before and after Cáceres’ murder in March 2016 as well as surrounding a failed assassination attempt the previous month, according to The Guardian.
Castillo Mejía was originally charged with masterminding the killing, but was found guilty of being a co-conspirator. He denies involvement and his lawyers plan to appeal, said Reuters.
Members of the Military Police of Public Order escort David Castillo, president of Desarrollos Energeticos S.A (DESA) upon his arrival at a court to listen to his sentence, in Tegucigalpa on July 5, 2021. ORLANDO SIERRA / AFP via Getty Images