Gustavo Castro’s continued stay in Honduras is a risk

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Oscar Castro, Gustavo’s brother, during the press conference held in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where he denounced that: “the crime scene was altered.” To his right are Berta Cáceres’ daughters. Photo: Afp

By: Blanche Petrich

Mexico’s ambassador in Honduras, Dolores Jiménez, affirmed that the risk that Gustavo Castro Soto runs by remaining in Honduras as a victim and the only surviving witness to a high-impact crime –the murder of Lenca [1] leader Berta Cáceres, last March 3– “is an objective fact,” and therefore the foreign ministry has put its effort into achieving the return of the environmentalist to the country as soon as possible.

In a telephone interview with La Jornada, the diplomat emphasized: “what’s notable in Castro Soto’s case is that, despite his vulnerability, he is very willing to contribute in whatever way may be required for the full clarification of the crime.”

Dolores Jiménez expressed that there are “high expectations” that the Honduran government will respond “as soon as possible” to the request that the foreign ministry officially sent this Thursday for Gustavo Soto, director of the organization Otros Mundos, with its headquarters in Chiapas, to be permitted to return to Mexico before the 30-day time period expires that a judge set in La Esperanza, where the attack was committed. As of now, the judge’s prohibition on leaving Honduras does not expire for 26 days.

She assured that bilateral agreements between Mexico and Honduras are in effect for cooperation in judicial investigations, like this one, so that Castro would be able to continue amplifying his statements at a distance, from Mexico, by means of the Honduran Embassy. “It’s something very common and is practiced all over the world.”

The environmentalist leader is being given shelter in Casa México, a building close to the offices of the Mexican Embassy which forms part of the official residence of Mexico in Tegucigalpa. The consul Pedro Barragán accompanies him all the time.

The ambassador pointed out that as of this moment the Honduran government has not responded in writing to Mexico’s request, delivered the day before yesterday (Thursday). She indicated that a communiqué from the Honduran government details the efforts that have been carried out with the Mexican in the process of investigating the murder of the Lenca leader Berta Cáceres, “and it permits us to have good expectations” that he can return “before the time that the judge set expires.”

Nevertheless, this communiqué, published by the Secretariat of Foreign Relations and International Cooperation and directed “to public opinion,” does not make any allusion to the case of Gustavo Castro. It only indicates that: “all lines of investigation are open” and are the object of “active and systematic efforts.” It reports that the agencies involved in the process are the attorney general’s office, the criminal investigations agency and the national police.

Yesterday, in a press conference, human rights organizations, Berta Cáceres’ daughters and a brother of Gustavo, Óscar Castro Soto, asked that, in the face of irregularities committed by the first judge of La Esperanza, in the southwestern department of Intibucá, the murder case record be assigned to another court.

Ambassador Jiménez declined to comment in that regard. “It’s not my business,” she said.

She explained that the Embassy of Mexico has offered the only witness to the crime consular protection from the first moment, “and it will continue offering all that he requires.”

She added that she would insist he be permitted to continue cooperating from Mexico through the Honduras representation. “It’s a very common practice all over the world. Honduras law permits it. There is a bilateral agreement in effect between the two countries for facilitating judicial cooperation in criminal matters.” She also emphasized that the protection that the Mexican government is offering is with full respect to Honduras law.

–Have you received an answer to the official communication from the Mexican Chancellery?

–No, as of now there is no written response. We hope that we will have a prompt and positive answer as soon as possible.

We observe that the State has expressed its commitment to an in-depth investigation and full clarification and punishment of those responsible. That is important. But above all is the protection of the witness’ life, if it should be at risk. One is not incompatible with the other.

–Does the government of Honduras recognize Gustavo as a victim?

–Of course. His legal situation here is that of a protected witness, as a victim and as a human rights defender with protective measures.

The ambassador specified that the witness is not able to stay in La Esperanza, where the case is followed, “because that’s where he would run the most risk. Although the judge ordered him to appear there to give his statements, the consul transported him to Tegucigalpa afterwards. The consul is with him at every moment.”

After emphasizing that: “nothing is superfluous in matters of security,” the diplomat explained the mechanisms that have been activated for the Mexican activist’s protection: a security operation of the Honduras government for his movements, the same security from the Mexican government and the precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

–Why did the Honduran police intercept Castro Soto’s departure in the international airport when he was going to travel to Mexico? Why were the facts presented that way?

–There is a lot of clamour and at times a lack of immediate communication. The day that he was leaving for Mexico, after the prosecutor released him from his responsibility to make a statement, he thanked him and told him that he could leave. He returned to the airport with the consul after getting a plane ticket. But at the last minute a requirement arrived from the attorney general’s office that he had to continue making statements. We knew that a notification could arrive, but it didn’t happen and we decided to take him to the airport. The consul and I went with him. He was there when they delivered the notification. Then we took him back to the Mexican residence in the official car in which we had taken him. We made contact immediately with the authorities to confirm that in effect he was willing to continue giving statements in La Esperanza.

We were organizing a security operation all day Sunday and on Monday, March 7, it was activated at the first hour to take him to La Esperanza with all guaranties.

–Where does the process stand at this time?

–There has already been a bunch of formalities in which he participated in La Esperanza and therefore he is proposing to the Honduras government that he can leave the country and continue collaborating from Mexico in any amplification that is required. The conditions are appropriate for doing it now.

[1] Lenca – Indigenous people in southwestern Honduras and eastern El Salvador.

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Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

Saturday, March 12, 2016

http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2016/03/12/politica/003n1pol

Re-published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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