A former soldier has claimed that Berta Cáceres, the Honduran environmental activist who was assassinated earlier this year, appeared on a hitlist that had been distributed to an elite police unit of the Honduran military that had received training from U.S. forces just last summer. Cáceres, a celebrated indigenous activist and laureate of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, had received numerous death threats and warned human rights groups that she was on a hitlist before she was killed. The source, a 20-year old first sergeant known only under his pseudonym Rodrigo Cruz, told The Guardian that his unit had received a list featuring dozens of social and environmental activists, with orders to eliminate them.
Refusing to comply, Cruz as well as his unit commander deserted and left for a nearby country, while other members of their unit have since disappeared and are believed to be dead. “If I went home, they’d kill me. Ten of my former colleagues are missing. I’m 100 percent certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the army,” Cruz told the newspaper. Since March, five men have been arrested for her murder, including one man who was an active-duty major in the Honduran army.
According to Annie Bird, director of Rights and Ecology, a group documenting human rights abuses in Honduras, there is so much corruption in the judicial and political system that no one can credibly investigate Cruz’s claims. However, human rights groups have long criticized the U.S. for supporting Honduran security forces, as there is evidence of widespread and systematic abuse, and activists warned Congress in April that activists were being targeted by so-called “death squads.” Bertita Zúñiga, Cáceres’s daughter, hopes that Cruz’s new testimony will help her family’s fight for an independent international investigation into who was really behind the murder. “This shows us that death squads are operating in the armed forces, which are being used to get rid of people opposing government plans. It shows us that human rights violations are state policy in Honduras,” she told The Guardian.
Read the full story at The Guardian.