Overview of the Berta Caceres murder cases in Honduras

The following overview of the legal cases for the murder of Berta Cáceres, a visionary Indigenous and social movement leader in Honduras, is an excerpt from the report ‘Violence, Corruption & Impunity in the Honduran Energy Industry: A Profile of Roberto David Castillo Mejia.’ Roberto David Castillo is a Honduran businessman and former military intelligence officer who served as the President of the DESA company that was attempting to the build the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project which Berta Cáceres opposed. For the full report with footnotes, click here.


In March 2018, Roberto David Castillo Mejía was arrested and accused of participation in the murder of Berta Cáceres. Berta Cáceres was the General Coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organization of Honduras (COPINH) at the time of her murder. In that capacity, she had accompanied Indigenous Lenca people in the region of Río Blanco who opposed the construction of the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project, a project that, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, was licensed without the free, prior and informed consent or consultation of the Indigenous Lenca communities impacted. The Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project was promoted by the DESA corporation.

Prior to Castillo’s arrest, eight men, including Douglas Bustillo and Sergio Rodríguez, both former employees of Castillo at the DESA corporation, were arrested and charged with Cáceres’ murder and the attempted murder of Gustavo Castro, referred to in the trial as Protected Witness ABC-03-03-2016. Castro was staying with Cáceres in her home after conducting a workshop with COPINH when hitmen broke into the house to murder Cáceres.

During October and November 2018, the public trial against Sergio Ramón Rodríguez Orellana, Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, Mariano Díaz Chávez, Edilsón Atilio Duarte, Elvin Rápalo Orellana, Henry Javier Hernández Rodríguez, Oscar Torres Velásquez and Emerson Eusebio Duarte (Honduras v. Douglas Bustillo et al) took place. On November 29, 2018, a Honduran Court found seven of those charged, including Castillo’s former employees, guilty of Cáceres’ murder. Four of the accused were also found guilty of the attempted murder of Gustavo Castro.

During the trial, a government forensic expert described how she identified the telephones used by four of the accused. She filtered data gathered from cellular telephone towers servicing the crime scene to identify telephone numbers that were not normally used in the area, and then mapped the geolocation of those telephones when they placed or received calls prior to and after the murder. This identified a set of devices that had traveled from La Ceiba to La Esperanza on the day of the murder and departed La Esperanza slightly after midnight on March 3, 2016, minutes after the murder, initiating and receiving calls during the journey. Investigators then tracked down the owners of the telephones, identifying the four individuals eventually convicted of traveling to La Esperanza to carry out the murder. The man convicted of acting as the ringleader of this assassin group was former soldier Henrry Hernández.

Telephone data shows Hernández coordinated directly with a fifth man, former soldier Douglas Bustillo, who served as Head of Security for DESA until July 2015. A sixth man identified, active duty Army Major Mariano Díaz, had served with Bustillo during his time in the military. Díaz and Hernández presumably became acquainted when they were both stationed on the 15th Battalion base. When themurder of Cáceres was being planned, Honduran authorities recorded telephone conversations and text messages between Díaz and Hernández and between Díaz and Bustillo. Díaz was subject to a wiretap at the time, as he was under investigation for kidnappingand drug trafficking.

Douglas Bustillo was arrested on May 2, 2016. That same day, Major Mariano Díaz and Bustillo’s former colleague, DESA’s Social and Environmental Manager Sergio Rodríguez, were also arrested. While Bustillo’s formal employment with DESA ended in July 2015, telecommunications data admitted as evidence during the trial shows he remained in touch with Castillo. Before her murder, Berta Cáceres reported threats related to her opposition to the Agua Zarca Project and sexual harassment by Bustillo. In the victim impact statement during Honduras v. Douglas Bustillo et al, Laura Zuniga Cáceres, daughter of Berta Cáceres, stated that her mother had sat her down weeks before the murder and told her that Castillo harassed and persecuted her.

In May 2016, prosecutors carried out a search warrant of DESA’s offices, where they impounded a telephone that had been used by Daniel Atala, DESA’s Chief Financial Officer. Investigators impounded several phones during the raid of Bustillo’s home, one of which was used by Bustillo to coordinate the murder of Berta Cáceres. It contained Whatsapp messages between Bustillo and Castillo and other data related to the murder. Authorities also seized Rodríguez’s phone at the time of his arrest, which contained messages from a Whatsapp chat in which Rodríguez reported to Castillo and other DESA executives and employees information he gathered through informants, paid by DESA, about Berta Cáceres and COPINH. Additionally, the government’s financial expert established during the trial that a company for which Castillo was the legal representative, Concretos del Caribe S.A. (CONCASA), paid Sergio Rodríguez a monthly salary starting in June 2016, following his arrest, during his pre-trial detention and at least until December 2016.

Evidence admitted in the trial makes clear that Douglas Bustillo coordinated with Henrry Hernández and Major Mariano Díaz to plan the murder of Berta Cáceres, and that their motive was financial; they were going to be paid for the murder. In the wiretaps, Hernández repeatedly referred to the money they were going to receive for carrying out the crime. The evidence suggests that throughout the murder planning, Bustillo coordinated with his former boss, Roberto David Castillo Mejía. Evidence seized from Bustillo’s home indicates he received an influx of money after the murder took place, at which time he was unemployed and had no formal income. Additionally, in wiretapped conversations between Hernández and Díaz, they refer to a person or persons up above (“allá arriba”) upon whom carrying out the crime depended.

On February 5, 2016, Henrry Hernández, apparently accompanied by an unidentified second person, made the first attempt to murderBerta Cáceres. Immediately before Hernández traveled to La Esperanza, Bustillo met with Hernández in Siguatepeque. That day, Castillo sent a Whatsapp message to Bustillo reminding him to ‘remember the accidents and the scene’. Later that night, however, Hernández informed Díaz that they could not carry out the murder, indicating that there were a lot of people at Cáceres’ home and asked him to let Bustillo know. The next morning, Hernández reported again to Díaz that they had been at the scene and concluded they would need a car and a different plan for the next attempt to carry out the murder. Hernández then spoke to Bustillo four times on the morning of February 6, 2016 after which Bustillo wrote a Whatsapp message to Castillo informing him the mission had been aborted and that he would wait for what Castillo had said because he had no more money for logistics. Bustillo repeated that he needed what Castillo was going to budget for logistics. Castillo replied, ‘Copied, mission aborted.’

Whatsapp messages between Castillo and Bustillo reveal that on February 29, 2016, they coordinated a meeting to take place the next morning, March 1, 2016, so Castillo could provide Bustillo with money. On March 2, 2016, men who entered Berta Cáceres’ home fatally shot her and shot at, and injured, Gustavo Castro between 11:30-11:40 pm. Shortly after the murder was executed, Hernández sent a text message to Bustillo. Hours later, according to phone company reports, Bustillo left Tegucigalpa and traveled northto the department of Cortes, communicating with Hernández en route, presumably to deliver the money promised to the hitmen. While in Cortes, Bustillo communicated with Castillo via phone call and text message.

The prosecution of Castillo for the charge of the murder of Berta Cáceres is still in the initial phase… While the Public Prosecutor’s Office has publicly affirmed that the murder investigation is still open, and the judges who ruled on the trial of the seven men convicted of Berta Cáceres’ murder noted in their oral verdict that executives of the DESA corporation knew about and consented to the plan to murder Berta Cáceres, no other masterminds behind the murder have been arrested.