Native environmental defender killed in latest attack on Honduras | Environment

Another indigenous environmentalist has been killed in Honduras, confirming the country’s worst position as the deadliest place in the world to protect land and natural resources from exploitation.

Félix Vásquez, 60, a veteran leader of the indigenous Lenca people, was shot dead in the Santiago de Puringla, a rural community in the department of La Paz, western Honduras, on the evening of December 26 – just a few weeks later. after reporting death threats. linked to his work. His adult children were beaten and threatened in the balaclavas by the four armed assailants, but survived the ordeal.

Vásquez has been involved in the defense of indigenous land rights since the 1980s and was known nationwide for organizing opposition to environmentally destructive mega-projects such as mines, hydroelectric dams, wind farms and logging, as well as helping expropriated communities restore ancestral land titles. .

Over the past few weeks, a campaign of intimidation against several Lenca leaders, including Vásquez, has escalated amid a strained land dispute between a small indigenous community and a local farmer allegedly linked to the ruling National Party.

According to Vásquez, he was followed and monitored at home, while two other Lenca leaders were sent to jail on charges of trump related to the land dispute. Vásquez also recently announced his intention to run as a candidate for the progressive Libre party in the March 2021 election.

His death comes almost five years since the assassination of celebrated Lenca leader and Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres who was shot dead at home in March 2016 after years of threats and harassment in connection with her opposition to an internationally funded dam is. Seven men were convicted for their role in the planning and execution of the murder, but none of those who ordered the crime, paid for it and benefited from it were executed.

Vásquez’s death was condemned by rights groups, European and American lawmakers and diplomats. “Justice, the rule of law and the fight against impunity are more necessary than ever,” tweeted UN Representative Alice Shackelford.

But the hope of justice is slim. “Félix was very smart and a good strategist who had been opposed to extractionism for over 35 years. That’s why he was killed,” said Roger Medina, a friend and lawyer representing local communities in Lenca. “We live in a dictatorship, so I have no doubt that it will again be a crime against another indigenous environment that will go unpunished.”

On Tuesday, local media reported the murder of another defender, Adán Mejía of the indigenous people of Tolupán, who was allegedly attacked on his way back from caring for his wheat crops in Candelaria, a rural community in the northern department of Yoro.

Honduras has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world to defend natural resources and land rights after the 2009 coup ushered in an autocratic government that remains in power, despite multiple allegations of corruption, electoral fraud and links to international drug trafficking networks.

Hundreds of defenders were killed and disappeared, while many others were silenced as a result of trained criminal charges.

This year was particularly grim. In July, a group of black indigenous Garifuna defenders were forcibly disappeared by armed assailants in police uniforms. Eight water protectors from the Guapinol community were detained throughout the pandemic, despite the international condemnation of the prosecutor related to their peaceful protests against a polluting iron oxide mine.

According to a report by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, the “cause of most social conflicts is [in Honduras] is the systematic lack of transparency and meaningful participation ”of communities affected by the exploitation of natural resources.

But the link between political and economic elites means that crimes against environmentalists are rarely prosecuted. Investigations into alleged corrupt officials sanctioning large-scale projects without legally required consultations and environmental impact studies are also rare.

In La Paz alone, at least 40 indigenous mega-projects have been approved without consulting local communities.

Marlen Corea, 32, vice president of a group of indigenous and campesino environmental groups in La Paz who worked with Vásquez, said: ‘Every community leader is threatened without exception as part of the intimidation campaign to silence us and we stop resisting projects for the exploitation of natural resources that are imposed on our area without consultation. That’s why Félix was killed, but our fight is fair. ”