Since a 2009 military coup against the democratic government of President Mel Zelaya, Honduras has become the most dangerous country in the world for environmental and human rights activists. On October 17, two more prominent rural organizers, José Ángel Flores and Silmer Dionisio George, were assassinated in Colón. Flores was the president of the Unified Campesinos Movement of the Aguan Valley (MUCA), and George was a well-known leader from the same organization.
This follows the October 9 assassination attempts against Tomás Gómez Membreño, the general coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and COPINH community leader Alexander García Sorto.
Unfortunately, this continuing wave of political violence has a lot to do not only with the corrupt, repressive government that rules Honduras, but also with the United States government. Washington played a major role in consolidating the 2009 military coup and continues to supply tens of millions of dollars of military and security aid annually to the government.
On March 2, Berta Cáceres, the former general coordinator of COPINH and winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was murdered. She had been organizing, with some success, against a number of environmentally destructive projects that proliferated after the 2009 coup. One of them was the Agua Zarca dam, which threatens the environment and rights of the indigenous Lenca community. The movement that she helped organize forced the largest dam producer in the world to pull out of the project, and has halted construction since last year.
A Honduran soldier subsequently told the media that Berta had been targeted by the military for assassination.
The murder of Berta Cáceres provoked so much international outrage that 42 members of the US Congress have cosponsored the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act (HR 5474). It calls for the suspension of all US military and security aid to Honduras so long as the Honduran government fails to protect social activists and so long as the country's security forces continue to perpetrate human rights violations with impunity, among other conditions.
To the consternation of human rights advocates in Honduras and the US, on September 30, the State Department certified that Honduras had met the human rights conditions attached to their 2016 military and security aid, against all the violent evidence to the contrary. Without this certification, Honduras would have lost half of this aid.
This op-ed was originally published by The Hill on October 25, 2016. Read the rest here.