A member of the same indigenous organization as slain environmentalist Berta Cáceres was shot dead Tuesday in Honduras, incensing activists and convincing a European development bank to stop financing a controversial dam project.
Nelson García, 39, was killed outside his house after police evicted 150 families from lands in the northern village of Rio Chiquito, Honduran authorities said in a statement, noting the incident had nothing to do with the eviction. “The tragic death of Mr. Nelson García took place when two unknown assailants attacked him as he left his house some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from where the eviction took place,” the statement reads.
García, a father of five children, was the leader of the community that was occupying a portion of Rio Chiquito, claiming property rights. His murder comes less than two weeks after the shooting death of renowned award-winning environmentalist Berta Cáceres, another vocal leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous organizations of Honduras, or COPINH. She was also ambushed in her house.
Telesur reports that local sources dispute police accounts of the early morning eviction that ended a two-year-long occupation. “[Authorities] 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 yuca plantations,” said Tomas Gomez, a COPINH coordinator.
Since Tuesday, activists and organizations, including the United Nations, have denounced the attacks via Twitter, adding pressure to a government that’s so far captured one person suspected of Cáceres’ killing.
— ARTICLE 19 UN (@article19UN) March 16, 2016
And on Wednesday, the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO) said it would suspend all activities in Honduras, and halt its funding for the Agua Zarca project, a proposed hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River that Cáceres and the COPINH opposed.
“FMO is shocked by the news that Nelson García, another COPINH member, has been murdered in Honduras,” the agency said in a statement. “We will not engage in new projects or commitments … no disbursements will be made, including the Agua Zarca project.”
Meanwhile, at least one activist in Washington reportedly burst into an Americas Society and Council of the Americas meeting to protest. ASCOA is a forum dedicated to education, debate, and dialogue in the Americas.
— Kathryn Johnson (@KatJohnsonDC) March 16, 2016
Long before her murder, Cáceres reported threats against her life and the assassination of colleagues as they battled the Agua Zarca and other development. “In my organization alone,” she told CNN en Español in 2015, “we have 10 people who’ve been killed with total impunity.”
Environmentalists have for years faced threats of retaliation worldwide, but Global Witness — which keeps a tally of environmentalist killed — says attacks have worsened, particularly in Latin America. The region has seen a surge in investment in recent times, feeding encroachment and growth in previously undeveloped areas. At least 116 environmental activists were murdered in 2014, according to Global Witness’ latest figures. These deaths are almost double the number of journalists killed in that same period, and fatalities have been increasing since 2002. Moreover, 40 percent of those killed are from indigenous communities.
“By no means is the problem getting better,” Billy Kyte, senior campaigner at Global Witness, told ThinkProgress earlier this month. Global Witness will release an updated report in the next couple of months, though officials told ThinkProgress they expect 2015 to be deadlier than 2014. “The increase in demand of natural resources is fueling ever more violence,” Kyte said.
Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. It’s also the fourth most dangerous for environmental activists with 12 recorded deaths in 2014, according to Global Witness.