Mere days after the murder of celebrity activist Berta Cáceres, a fellow member of her group was shot and killed for his participation in the same environmental group.
Less than two weeks after environmental activist Berta Cáceres was murdered in Honduras, another member of her organization has been killed. Nelson García was active in the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), a group that has been targeted for many years by a government intolerant of activism aimed at protecting the environment.
García, who is 38 years old and a father to five young children, was shot four times in the face by unidentified gunmen on March 15. He was returning home for lunch in Rio Lindo in northwestern Honduras, about 100 kilometres from La Esperanza, the place where Cáceres was killed on March 3.
The Guardian reports: “García spent the morning with the Rio Chiquito community where more than one hundred police and military officers helped evict dozens of families from land which local politicians claim doesn’t belong to them. Their simple timber houses and crops were destroyed using heavy machinery yesterday morning.”
García was very involved in the land rights dispute in the Rio Chiquito region. Although the land had been donated to the women of the community, their right to it was disrespected over and over again by municipal authorities, including a former mayor who used hired thugs to threaten the residents and tried repeatedly to sell off the land. García had fought on behalf of this community for two years.
Sadly his assassination, like that of Cáceres, does not come as a surprise. Honduras is known for being one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists. A report called “How Many More?” from Global Witness states that 101 activists have been killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2014. Many are from indigenous communities that resisted development projects, including mines and dams, and the encroachment of farms on their territory.
The rise in murders corresponds to a political coup that occurred in 2009, when leadership of Honduras was taken over by graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas. In an interview with The Guardian, Cáceres’ nephew Silvio Carillo described the current situation in Honduras as “complete chaos.”
“The U.S. needs to suspend military and police aid. The State Department is in the middle of giving them more tools to improve their judicial system and policing, but what’s happened over the last couple of years is the Honduran military has been getting more money and militarizing more and more. It’s very difficult to see how this government will come up with the answer on their own. We don’t think the Honduran government is capable of [bringing the assassins to justice], mostly because they are probably involved.”
Meanwhile COPINH continues to fight on behalf of Honduran land and people on a daily basis, as it has for the past 22 years. The group wrote on its website that García’s murder and the destruction of the community of Rio Chiquito are all part of the large number of threats, attacks, killings, intimidation, and crimes directed toward the organization.
COPINH calls on other national and international organizations to take a stand alongside them, to help combat this “plan of extermination” being carried out by the Honduran government.