Featured image: COPINH march in Honduras, from elmundo.cr
On March 15, 2016, Nelson Garcia, a member of the same Indigenous rights group as Berta Caceres was assassinated in Honduras. Garcia was killed by four gunshots to the face in the Rio Chiquito community, less than two weeks after Caceres’ murder.
Both were outspoken members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Garcia had been involved in a land dispute to reclaim Indigenous lands in Rio Chiquito along with 150 families who were members of COPINH. On March 15, 100 police officers, 20 military police, and 10 soldiers were sent to evacuate the area.
“They said that they would be peaceful and they were not going to throw anyone out of their houses, but at midday they started to tear down the houses, they destroyed the maize, the banana trees and the yucca plantations,” said Tomas Gomez, a COPINH coordinator. “When they finished the eviction, our companion Nelson Garcia went to eat in his house, they were waiting in the zone that the commission of COPINH to pass, but it was diverted. Garcia arrived first and they killed him,” he added.
It is not clear who was behind the killing. Outraged human rights groups in Honduras have demanded the protection of COPINH members since the assassination of Caceres. Garcia was the father of five children and leader of the community in Rio Chiquito. Human and environment rights activists are regularly targeted in violent attacks in Honduras. At least 116 environmental and human rights defenders were killed in 2014, according to Global Witness, but many suspect that number to be much higher.
COPINH has issued the following statement:
The assassination of our comrade Nelson García and the eviction of the community of Río Chiquito are additional elements of the war against COPINH that seeks to end our more than twenty-two years of work defending, resisting, and constructing.
Today’s aggressions are additional elements of the large quantity of threats, aggressions, assassinations, intimidations and criminalizations directed against COPINH.
Since the assassination of our comrade Berta Cáceres we have been the target of a large number of that show there is zero interest on the part of the Honduran state in guaranteeing our lives and the work that we perform, as well as disregard for the mandates of the IACHR in terms of the application of the precautionary measures that have been granted us. The precautionary measures were granted March 6th, and now, nine days later, they’ve killed one of our comrades.
How could anyone expect us to trust the investigative process of the state that criminally harasses the leadership of the organization by announcing that it is under investigation for presumed participation in the murder, while not investigating the sources of the threats?
How could anyone expect there would be justice in the case of our leader Berta, when the measures necessary to protect her family are not guaranteed, and the daughters and companions of our comrade Berta have been followed by an armed man in the city of Tegucigalpa during their meetings with the authorities?
Since the very day of Berta’s assassination, the installations of COPINH in La Esperanza have been under surveillance by unknown persons, intimidating those who remain in resistance following in the footsteps of our leader.
In the same way the comrades of the community of Río Blanco have suffered aggressions and persecution when they went to the city of Tegucigalpa to make their case in front of entities such as the Ministry of the Interior and the diplomatic representatives of the G16.
Also there was an incident in which the comrades of the community went to the Río Gualcarque and were assaulted with shotgun blasts by the security guards of the hydroelectric project Agua Zarca, fortunately without injuring any members of the community.
All of these aggressions are part of a plan for the extermination of our organization and we call for national and international solidarity to fight back.
We demand an end to the persecution, harassment, and war against COPINH.
We demand that the Honduran state answer for the deaths of our comrades and that there be no more impunity.
We demand justice for our comrade Berta Cáceres.
With the ancestral force of Lempira, Mota, Etempica, Berta, our voices rise full of life, justice, and peace.
Berta’s alive, the struggle thrives!
La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras. Done on the 15th day of the month of March, 2016.
Via Campesina has also reported that violence in Honduras since Berta’s death has skyrocketed: “In the last few weeks the situation has worsened greatly with the proliferation of hired assassins aiming to take the lives of those who demand land to produce food, of those who struggle against extractivism, dams, and agribusiness.”
Other recent violence includes:
· Assassination attempt of Cristian Alegría in front of La Vía Campesina in Tegucigalpa. Cristian is the cousin of Rafael Alegría, Coordinator of La Vía Campesina Honduras and currently a member of the Honduran Congress for the Libre Party.
· Harassment of the president of MUCA (Unified Movement of Aguan Farmers), Juan Ángel Flores, who was arrested in the department of Colón, falsely accused of links to drug trafficking. The lack of evidence forced authorities to release him hours later.
· Detention of public defender Orbelina Flores Hernández, member of the Permanent Human Rights Observatory of the Aguan, accusing her of involvement in land conflicts.
· Sentencing of David Romero, journalist of Radio Globo, to 10 years in prison. David’s investigative reporting had exposed embezzlement of social security and other acts of corruption in Honduras, involving the ruling party, that gave rise to tens of thousands taking to the streets last year.
· Forcing Mexican environmental activist Gustavo Castro Soto — the sole witness to Berta’s assassination and himself injured during the shooting — to stay in Honduras for 30 days despite fears for his safety.
Cultural Survival joins hundreds of organizations in encouraging the international community continue to speak out against this violence.
Read more: 6 Things You Can Do to Put Your Anger into Action for #BertaCaceres (March 10)