Caring for the welfare of the planet is something that should be celebrated, not something that gets you shot. In many parts of the world, defending the natural environment is something that will earn you praise and credit. In Honduras though, it may earn you a bullet.
Since the 2009 military coup d’état that overthrew populist president Manuel Zelaya (see right), at least 123 land and environmental activists have been murdered in cold blood.
With the country looking to secure foreign investments, land has to be sacrificed for the building of mega-projects and factories. These investors, who are in bed with the Honduran government and many of their richest business tycoons, first have to clear the land of people before starting construction. The indigenous and rural people who live on these lands oppose the destruction of their homes and are being violently evacuated. Evacuations often turn ugly, and a wave of violence has seen the Honduran elite use deplorable techniques to oust the citizens.
Most notable of the reported 123 murder victims was Berta Cáceres (see left), winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental prize, who alerted the world to the atrocities but could not stop them. She is quoted as saying “They follow me. They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me, they threaten my family. That is what we face.” After unceasing death threats, Cáceres and then three of her colleagues were shot dead in response to their campaign against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque river. Unsurprisingly, this project was funded by affluent international capitalists.
Berta co-founded The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, which fought for the human rights of indigenous Hondurans.
On February 2nd, 2017, Global Witness, the organisation leading the investigation into the killings in Honduras uploaded this worrying press release to their website:
‘Global Witness condemns the attempts by Honduran authorities and industry spokespeople to undermine and politicise our new investigation into the killings of land and environmental defenders in Honduras.’
‘The Honduran State must guarantee the security of Global Witness’s staff Billy Kyte and Ben Leather, as well as that of the local human rights defenders associated with the report.’
‘Many of the world’s worst environmental and human rights abuses are driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system. Global Witness is campaigning to end this. We carry out investigations, expose abuses, and campaign for change. We are independent, not-for-profit, and work with partners around the world in our fight for justice.’
‘We are deeply alarmed by the threat of legal action from high level officials in the Honduran Government and expect protective measures to be implemented and the rights of our staff to be protected.’
The most concerning thing about this press release is that the fear for the safety of their staff is a real one, judging by the track record of Honduras when it comes to their treatment of environmentalists.
Is this a new issue?
The short answer is no. On average, two people (globally) are killed every week for defending their land, waterways, forests and more against those looking to obtain their natural resources, or build dams, mines or ranches.
Living on a fetching piece of land can put a bounty on your head, and many of these environmental defenders have been murdered by assassins purely for that reason. While Brazil was the original ‘most dangerous place to defend the environment’, the title now moves over to Honduras, though a sharp increase of murders in Southeast Asia, especially the Philippines, is being reported too.
Many of the places that these ruthless investors wish to acquire are deep in the jungle or very remote, and so lack in communications and public records. Because of this, we must be asking how many more murders have slipped under the radar?
To learn more about the government and global investors in Honduras breaking numerous human rights laws to exploit natural resources, watch the following shocking video.