In an incredible turn of events, the case file in the murder of Honduras' activist Berta Cáceres was apparently stolen, leaving the government and the international community searching for answers and the file itself.
Details of the theft were still emerging, but an initial account by El Heraldo said that it was taken on September 29, when an appellate court judge, who had taken the case file from her office to analyze it at home, was stopped by two vehicles and robbed of her own car.
The Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras - MACCIH) denounced the decision to remove the documents from the office as "irresponsible" and said it was trying to reconstruct the case file.
"The theft of the judicial case file of Berta Cáceres is a criminal act and requires an energetic response by the Attorney General's Office and the courts to identify and punish those responsible," Juan Jiménez Mayor, the MACCIH spokesperson, was quoted as saying in an official press release September 30.
Supreme Court President Rolando Argueta sought to control the damage by stating to the press that the case file has been reconstructed in its entirety and that the case would proceed.
"We would like to restate to the people, to the international community, to those involved in this case, the victims, that, despite this incident involving the case file, there is no way that this case involving Berta Cáceres will be compromised, halted or remain in impunity," Argueta said.
InSight Crime Analysis
The theft of the case file is more than embarrassing, it is a devastating blow against a government that was trying to show that it was taking the utmost care to resolve a case, which could roil relations between the United States and Honduras.
Cáceres, an activist who along with several non-governmental organizations was opposing the development of hydroelectric dams in her country, was assassinated March 3. In May, the government captured four suspects, two of whom had direct connections to the company building a dam that Cáceres and her cohorts had been protesting.
Many believe that that case reaches higher into both the government and the company, and this new development will surely fuel conspiracy theories that the administration of Juan Orlando Hernández is trying to hide something.
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The United States has taken a public posture on this case, a rare move that signals how important it is to that government. And MACCIH, the newly installed Organization of American States' appendage to the Honduran judicial system, has made the case the centerpiece of its efforts to help end impunity in the country.
Mindful of this reality, Argueta said authorities would investigate the possibility that the theft of the case file was something more than a mistake.
"We have to analyze the case and determine if it happened because of negligence...or if the fact that [the judge] took the case file from the court to her house goes beyond negligence and represents a criminal act," Argueta said.