The Mexican indigenous rights activist, Gustavo Castro Soto, who was with Berta Cáceres when she was murdered is being held against his will by the Honduran government. He is the sole eye-witness to her murder and was shot and wounded himself by Cáceres’s attackers.
Late Monday afternoon, the following letter allegedly from him began to appear in Honduran social media and was picked up and reported even by the pro-government press in Honduras. Among its many allegations are that the crime scene has been modified, and that even though he’s been subjected to hours of looking at photos, no one has shown him photos of the hit men known to be associated with either of the dam companies, that the sole line of questioning was which member of COPINH did it. The complete letter is provided below in a hurried translated below:
Dear friends, family, comrades in the struggle,
From the lands that saw the birth and death of our dear friend Berta Cáceres, beloved, supportive, and friend and exceptional woman, I’d like to thank you for all the support that little by little, in the moments that I can receive messages, I see the story of all that is out there moving. Its not easy, the alarm here, but neither is it easy when one has to make thousands of declarations to the government.
Here the waters are turbulent. The assassins that murdered Berta and who tried to murder me continue in impunity while the government tries to undermine the memory of Berta, the honor and the magnificent struggle that COPINH has made for so many years in the defense of the lives, the territories and human rights.
I saw Berta die in my arms, but also how her heart planted in every struggle that COPINH has realized in the many people that we knew.
There is no rain that resembles all the tears shed for her death, but there is no force that resembles the Lenca struggle that they face every day, hand in hand, in territorial disputes with the large transnationals. They maintain an unbreakable struggle with more than 40 hydroelectric projects, dozens of mines, and a struggle to recover their lands in more than 50 locations in their ancestral region. COPINH marches, walks, protests, recuperates, and extends its hand in solidarity with these movements.
That also was Berta.
The murder of Berta could signify for many companies and interests, the opportunity to advance on their territories. But COPINH is stronger than ever and will need the support of all to join in the struggle with solidarity and with the memory of Berta in our hands.
The murderers already know that I did not die, and I’m sure they’re wanting to finish their work. Even though the Mexican consulate came immediately to my help and has not left me, in spite of the patrols and police, this does not mean that my life is out of danger, and that’s something the Honduran government doesn’t want to see. They tried through today to retain me to control the information of my testimony. They’ve denied me copies of my testimony. They threatened that if I leave Tegucigalpa for my security, they’ve issued orders for my preventative arrest. If I leave without their consent there will be no security and will be on our responsibility. I declare that I committed no crime, and their legal questioning could be answered from my country.
It pains me enormously to be locked up alone in this city while thousands gather on the streets to say goodbye to our beloved Berta. But I want to tell you that I am with you there, crying a sea of tears for lost Berta, but also thanking her for the life I know that has inspired me so much. But I know that I have to leave and the government continues to prepare its sophistry to present to the public opinion that the murder of Berta was due to internal conflicts, when there’s already complaints filed against those that have threatened to murder her, people associated with the hydroelectric company protected by the government. They only want to investigate COPINH, to fragment it, and put an end to one of the principal and most emblematic struggles in the last 20 years in Honduras.
And my testimony is an obstacle for them to put who they want in prison. I didn’t hear cars arrive, nor leave, during the murder; the crime scene has been modified and altered; the blood evidence and others left blank lines that later can be altered. They’ve ordered a majority of COPINH to testify and not any of the suspects from earlier times that threatened to murder Berta.
Until today I was under official medical attention for my wounds with a supporting family and a supporting doctor. It was all day yesterday and well into the night before I could change my bloody clothes; but the government continues to hold my luggage without giving it back to me. I remained hungry and it was not until the afternoon that they offered me something to eat; I did not taste food until today, replying to questions, taking tests and the many things that were happening. It appears that they forgot that I’m a victim and for 48 hours I was not allowed to close my eyes, no rest, attending to their things. The sweetest thing was having COPINH outside, in the room at whatever moment, accompanying my security, silent, attentive, marvellous. One senses the human warmth and tremendous support. One feels more secure with them than with a thousand police.
After leaving the Public Prosecutor’s office last night to go to the court to give protected witness testimony, dressed in a black robe to my fingernails, and a black hood, I came back to more tests and questions; Finally they gave me a chance to change and brought me my suitcase, but later took it away again. The Counsel found me a hotel as hundreds on hundreds were arriving in the city to say goodbye to Berta. Finally at dawn we arrived at a room in a hotel and I finally could rest for a few hours because I was supposed to leave Tegucigalpa in a few hours. But they came to the hotel with photos and videos for me to identify the murderers that I saw face to face, but unfortunately all of the photos and videos were of marches of COPINH, and they wanted me to indicate which of them did it.
But they never showed me the faces of the owners of the companies, or their paid assassins In place of two hours, it was four hours of questions and photos.
They came when we were about to get into the armored car that the Counsel had to go to Tegucigalpa when the high officials of the Prosecutor’s murder office, and the Agencia Tecnica de Investigaciones Criminales arrived and asked me to stay to help them reconstruct the crime. I consulted and found it convenient to stay with the condition that they let me go to the wake for Berta, with the people. They agreed. During the two hours of the reconstruction I drank coffee because I wanted to help reconstruct the murder.
I thought this would be the last that the government asked of me, because when I wasn’t, they were tempted to place me in preventative custody because I am the only eye witness. But confusion reigned not only in our crushed hearts because we had to bury Berta before her time, but also reigned in the same Public Prosecutor, and in his offices the same reigned. Well, I agreed to help them in this difficult test of reconstructing the events. For Berta, for COPINH, so that some day justice would be done and those who promulgate death and destruction would be expelled from the land.
Thanks to so many people for their support, for the waiting of this valued people. Thanks, really thanks, I was moved to tears and more, that my friends and so many people, had been so concerned that they condemned this situation.
Gustavo Castro Soto.