The assassination of another Honduran activist involved in Berta Caceres’ Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras is an extreme case within a wider wave of systematic attacks and criminalization against the community in the two weeks since the iconic leader was murdered, a human rights observer told teleSUR on Wednesday. And it underlines the urgent need for the United States and other international backers to cut support to Honduras, she added.
“There are instances that suggest that COPINH continues to be under surveillance and to face threatening actions,” Brigitte Gynther of the Washington-based School of the Americas Watch told teleSUR by phone from La Esperanza, the western Honduran town where Caceres was murdered on March 3.
“Since Berta’s assassination there have been a number of other instances of COPINH members being followed,” she added, highlighting the example of Tomas Gomez, a leader of COPINH, being harassed by armed men showing up at his home.
The most egregious case of such attacks is the murder of COPINH member Nelson Garcia, shot dead by gunmen outside his mother-in-law’s home on Tuesday during an eviction of the community of Rio Chiquito where Garcia was involved in a resistance movement.
First Berta, now Nelson. When will the murder of activists stop in Honduras? pic.twitter.com/C0cZVnMRX1— teleSUR English (@telesurenglish) March 16, 2016
“It was clearly repression for his involvement in defending the community’s right to land and housing,” Gynther said. “He was very active in that struggle.”
Before he was murdered, Garcia was at the site of the Rio Chiquito eviction, where Honduran police and military forces and a tractor were violently forcing the community out by destroying homes and crops. Garcia went to his mother-in-law’s home, where two gunmen were waiting for him and shot him dead.
The conflict in the community has roots in an illegal land sale to make way for a private housing project that has threatened to dispossess community members of housing and agriculture lands, Honduran-based coordinator of the Honduras Solidarity Network, Karen Spring reported.
Human rights defenders have no doubt that the murder was a targeted assassination for Garcia’s involvement in resistance movements to defend Indigenous land and rights.
Along with threats, harassment, and murder in the case of Garcia, COPINH has also faced criminalization in the wake of Caceres’ assassination
“COPINH has denounced that the investigation has been focusing on COPINH members and attempts to further criminalize them and hide the reality of the political nature of Berta’s murder,” explained Gynther.
Horrifying news. Nelson García, Honduran Indigenous leader, member of COPINH, father of 5, has been killed. pic.twitter.com/CRwnLK5QKj— Daniel Voskoboynik (@bywordlight) March 16, 2016
Members of COPINH and Caceres’ family have slammed authorities for manipulating the investigation. Immediately after the murder, authorities denied the family’s demands for an independent forensic expert to be present at the autopsy, while the government has yet to respond to widespread demands for an independent, internationally-led investigation into the case.
Caceres’ daughter Olivia Marcela Zuñiga told teleSUR last week that the probe has focused on alleged “internal divisions” within COPINH and on the sole witness in the case, Mexican activist Gustavo Castro. Human rights defenders have repeatedly demanded Honduras guarantee Castro’s safety as a survivor of an assassination attempt and key witness.
“It is very worrisome how Gustavo Castro has been treated,” said Gynther, noting that his safety has been put at risk. “It is extremely concerning that he has not been able to return home but instead has had to remain in the country and be subjected to very difficult, manipulative investigative processes.”
Human rights defenders accompanying Castro’s brother Oscar in a press conference last week warned that the witness has suffered psychological torture while fearing for his life and is living in a situation of arbitrary detention in Honduras.
Caceres’ case has shone high-profile light on the human rights crisis that has deepened in Honduras since the 2009 military coup that the U.S. State Department under Hillary Clinton helped cement by blocking ousted President Mel Zelaya’s return to power.
For many solidarity activists, it’s a key moment to put pressure on the United States and other international supporters of the rights-abusing Honduran administration to be accountable for their complicity in attacks on activists and other human rights violations.
“Berta’s assassination combined now with the murder of Nelson Garcia and the repression of social movements throughout Honduras really demands that the United States stop financing the Honduran regime,” argued Gynther, highlighting U.S. military and security aid to Honduras as particularly to blame for support for abuses. “The U.S. is essentially financing this repression.”
“How many people have to die before the U..S is willing to cut military and security aid to Honduras?” she added.
Activists have planned a rally in solidarity with Gustavo Castro on Wednesday and a national mobilization on Thursday and Friday in memory of Caceres and her struggle.