Honduran environmental hero Félix Vásquez was murdered on December 26 for his brave work defending the land. Vásquez, 60, a long-time leader of the indigenous Lenca people, was shot at his home in front of his family. He lived in the rural community of Santiago de Puringla in western Honduras. Four assailants also beat his adult children who were present, but they survived.
Vásquez had defended indigenous land rights since the 1980s. He was known nationally for his work opposing megaprojects such as environmentally destructive mines, logging, wind farms and hydroelectric dams. He also worked on reclaiming ancestral titles for dispossessed communities.
It takes a lot of courage to be an environmentalist in Honduras. A 2009 military coup ousted President Manuel Zelaya and used harsh measures, including beatings and media blackouts, to set a new tone of controlling the people. For the last 11 years, the Honduran government has been better known for electoral fraud, corruption and drug trafficking connections than for eco-friendliness. Hundreds of environmental defenders have disappeared and/or been murdered, and others are locked up on contrived criminal charges.
In 2020, the Honduran government stepped up persecution of land defenders. In July, armed assailants wearing police uniforms disappeared a group of Black indigenous environmental defenders. Eight water activists from the Guapinol community have been detained this year for protesting against an iron oxide mine. On December 29, just days after Vásquez’s murder, indigenous farmer Adán Mejía was murdered on his way home from tending his corn.
“Every single community leader is threatened, without exception, as part of the intimidation campaign to silence us and stop our resistance to projects to exploit natural resources imposed on our territory without consultation,” said Marlen Corea, a leader of indigenous and campesino environmental groups in La Paz. Corea worked closely with Vásquez. “That’s why Félix was killed, but our struggle is just.”
Image via Trocaire