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Two indigenous leaders killed in Honduras

Indigenous leader and environmentalist Berta Cáceres was murdered in 2016. She, Copinh (the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) and the people of Río Blanco halted construction on the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project in the Río Blanco region of western Honduras . Picture from Goldman Environmental Prize
Marlon Gonzalez, Associated Press

Honduran authorities said they are investigating the murders of two activists and indigenous leaders killed in separate incidents over the weekend.

Felix Vasquez, a longtime environmental activist from the Lenca indigenous group, was shot by masked men in front of relatives on Saturday Decmber 26 in his home in Santiago de Puringla.

On Sunday, Jose Adan Medina was found shot to death in a remote location in the community of El Volcan, also in western Honduras.

Mr Medina was a member of the Tolupan indigenous group.

Mr Vasquez, who was seeking the nomination of the opposition Libre party to run for congress, had fought hydroelectric projects and land abuses for years.

National elections are scheduled for March 2021.

Yuri Mora, spokesman for the Honduras prosecutor's office, said that the office on ethnic groups and cultural patrimony was investigating Mr Vasquez's murder.

He said investigators had executed searches and were about to call people in to make statements, but no arrests had been made.

He said Mr Vazquez had filed complaints with the prosecutor's office in the past against hydroelectric projects and on land management issues.

Honduras' National Human Rights Commission condemned both killings and said it would investigate.

It confirmed that Mr Vasquez had reported threats and harassment.

The commission had requested protective measures for Mr Vasquez in January 2020, but they were never carried out.

Rafael Alegria, coordinator of the non-governmental organisation Via Campesina in Honduras, said Mr Vasquez had been filing complaints and reporting threats since 2017, but the government never acted.

Mr Alegria, himself a former national politician, said that activists had been reporting harassment from mining, timber and hydroelectric companies, as well as large landowners, in the La Paz department for years.

"There is a union of terrible interests in western Honduras," Mr Alegria said.

"There is constant persecution of farmers and indigenous communities.

"They murdered Bertha Cáceres in Intibuca and now Felix Vasquez, and others have been threatened."

Ms Cáceres, also a Lenca environmental activist, was killed in March 2016, when gunmen burst into her home and shot her.

Her murder captured global attention in part because she had been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

She fought for years against a dam project. 

Several men have been convicted in her murder, but her family continues to pursue justice against those believed to be the masterminds.

Honduras is among the world's most deadly nations for environmental activists.

Via Campesina says that 12 activists have been killed there in 2020.

In March, Global Witness reported that 27 environmental activists had been killed in Honduras since Ms Caceres' murder.

Dania Cruz, spokeswoman for the National Police, said they were investigating the murders of Mr Vasquez and Mr Medina, but told local media she would not share additional information to avoid interfering with the investigations.

  • In March Irish News deputy digital editor Maeve Connolly travelled to Honduras with Irish charity Trócaire to learn about the dangers facing environmental and human rights defenders there. Critics say Honduras is selling off its natural resources to the highest bidder, while poverty and violence force thousands to leave their homeland in search of a new life in the US.

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