Honduras convicts ex-executive in activist murder, appeal expected

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By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) -A former top executive of a Honduran construction firm was found guilty on Monday of collaborating in the 2016 murder of environmental activist Berta Caceres, a decision that a lawyer for the executive promised to appeal.

Roberto David Castillo, the former head of Desarrollos Energeticos, or DESA, ran the $50 million Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project that the indigenous Caseres fervently opposed.

Castillo's lawyer, Ritza Antunez, said the ruling was a result of "international pressures" but gave no details. She added that Castillo's conviction would be appealed.

Seven other men have already been convicted and sentenced for playing a role in the killing. Castillo was originally charged with being the mastermind behind the murder, but was found guilty of being a co-conspirator.

It is not clear when Castillo might be sentenced, though the process could take months.

DESA, meanwhile, did not immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Caceres was shot to death in her home in Honduras after leading a fight to stop a dam from being built by DESA on the lands of her Lenca tribe on the Gualcarque River.

The veteran activist had taken on environmental causes since the early 1990s, beginning with illegal logging. She won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to organize resistance to the dam.

Lenca activists said the project would cause major disruptions to their water and food supply and that the builders did not consult local indigenous groups.

The indigenous rights groups founded by Caceres, COPINH, hailed the decision as a victory.

"It means that the criminal power structures failed to corrupt the justice system," COPINH wrote in a post on Twitter.

Honduras is one of the world's most dangerous countries for activists, with 14 land and environmental defenders killed in 2019, up from four people in 2018, according to advocacy group Global Witness.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Stephen Coates)

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