Leaked court documents obtained by the Guardian and reported on Tuesday appear to corroborate a whistleblower's claim that U.S.-trained special forces within the Honduran military were responsible for the death of prominent Indigenous land defender Berta Cáceres last year.
The whistleblower, a former soldier, alleged that the Honduran army was murdering activists on a secret "kill list," as Common Dreams reported.
"Eight men have been arrested in connection with the murder, including one serving and two retired military officers," the Guardian writes. "Officials have denied state involvement in the activist's murder, and downplayed the arrest of the serving officer Maj Mariano Díaz, who was hurriedly discharged from the army."
Yet the documents reveal that several of the military suspects received U.S. training and visited Cáceres' town multiple times in the weeks leading up to her death, according to the Guardian.
"Five civilians with no known military record have also been arrested," the newspaper adds. "They include Sergio Rodríguez, a manager for the internationally funded Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam which Cáceres had opposed."
Moreover, a "legal source close to the investigation" told the Guardian: "The murder of Berta Cáceres has all the characteristics of a well-planned operation designed by military intelligence, where it is absolutely normal to contract civilians as assassins. It's inconceivable that someone with her high profile, whose campaign had made her a problem for the state, could be murdered without at least implicit authorization of military high command."
Under President Barack Obama, the State Department had promised to investigate the alleged "kill list," but under President Donald Trump, such an investigation appears unlikely. And in fact, documents uncovered last year by rights activists revealed that U.S. special operations training in Latin America tripled under Obama.
Honduras has been overwhelmed with violence and state-sanctioned human rights abuses since a U.S.-backed coup overthrew the democratically-elected government in 2009. Latin American human rights activists in general are facing what Oxfam International described as an "unthinkable spiral of violence" as governments are co-opted by economic elites, as Common Dreams reported.