Politics of Death: 'Am I next?' Deadly waiting game for Honduras land activists

Politics of Death: 'Am I next?' Deadly waiting game for Honduras land activists

Watch 'Worth Dying For?': a new film about how the murder of famed activist Berta Caceres has unleashed a wave of activism across Honduras

Worth Dying For? Univision

LA PAZ, Honduras, June 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Every night, land rights activist Felipe Benitez and his wife wedge shut the doors and windows of their home and pray gunmen do not break in to kill the entire family - and with due reason.

Honduras has been named the world's most dangerous place for environmental activists like Benitez - local people battling big business to preserve their ancestral lands from mining, damns, logging, tourism and other mega-developments.

"In Honduras, one of the ways to get you out of the way is murder," said Benitez from his home in the Honduran mountain top village of Santa Elena in western La Paz province.

Berta Caceres photo held up duirng a protest march in Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Berta Caceres photo held up duirng a protest march in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

The area of lush mountains and sweeping valleys has become a focal point in a nation on the front line of land activism, with scores of active disputes - and murders - along the way.

Benitez fears he could be next - along with his wife and children - as he leads opposition to Los Encinos hydroelectric dam on land he claims for the indigenous Lenca people.

Four activists have been killed since 2013, including one whose dismembered body was found in a river in 2015, said Benitez, and campaigning has stalled construction of the dam.

Norma Allegra Cerrato, Honduran vice minister of human rights, governance and de-centralisation, said the government is working to stem violence against activists while other government departments push for the projects they argue are needed for the economy.

"Currently we've had a lot of problems with big interests, we even have had deaths and we have to try to avoid this from happening in the country," Cerrato said.


Honduras is the deadliest place on earth for environmental activism, according to a January report by UK-based watchdog Global Witness, with about 120 activists killed since 2010 but most crimes going unpunished.

The dangers involved hit the spotlight when renowned environmentalist Berta Caceres - a prize-winning grassroots campaigner - was gunned down in her home in March last year.

Hundreds march in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, against the Agua...
Hundreds march in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam.

Since Caceres' murder, at least seven more activists have been killed, including other members of the organisation co-founded by Caceres - the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH), according to Global Witness.

The latest victim, Jose Santos, an indigenous leader and land rights defender, was shot dead in February in his home.

Time for Change

Experts says violent conflicts between indigenous groups, companies and the country's business and political elite will continue unless more is done to protect the rights of indigenous people and consult them about projects planned on their land.

Under an International Labour Organization (ILO) agreement that Honduras signed in 1989, the government is obliged to ensure projects on indigenous lands win "free, prior and informed consent" from locals.

But Honduran indigenous leaders say this rarely happens.

"Our territories, our rivers have been stolen and we haven't been consulted," said Margarita Pineda, whose own fight focuses on land around her native San Jose, another village in La Paz.

Margarita Pineda is pictured in San Jose, La Paz, where she works as co-ordinator for MILPAH, (Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz). TRF/Nicky MilneAccording to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the top rights commission in the Americas, there are nearly 840 mining projects, most for gold, in the pipeline or under consideration, covering a third of Honduran territory.

Caceres led a decades-long campaign against the construction of the $50 million Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam that threatened to uproot hundreds of Lenca people and destroy livelihoods.

Both the government and Desarrollos Energeticos SA (DESA), the private company building the Agua Zarca dam, have denied any involvement in Caceres' murder.

International backers of the dam - the FMO, the Dutch development bank, and a Finnish state investment fund, Finnfund - suspended $20 million in funding following Caceres' murder.

In March, Finnfund said in a statement: "FMO and Finnfund will not, for now, make disbursements to the project."

The FMO is working on plans to leave the project, saying on its website: "FMO is currently in discussion with the other Lenders, the independent facilitator, DESA and other stakeholders in order to realize a responsible exit from the project."


Fellow activists vow to honour Caceres's legacy.

Standing by a dried-out river bed, Pineda laments the disappearance of gushing rivers and waterfalls that ran through her forested mountains before a dam was built two years ago.

"They thought we would sit here with our arms crossed when Berta died. But we have strengthened our fight. We will all die one day so it may as well be for a fair fight," said Pineda who says she has received death threats from armed men.

Armed Guards

For Miriam Miranda, head of the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras (OFRANEH), danger is a part of life for campaigners.

"We're facing a hard fight against companies that are taking over our territories," said Miranda, who is opposing big tourism projects on the ancestral lands of the Garifuna people.

"I've been .. arrested and beaten by the police. I've been kidnapped by hired assassins who wanted to kill us for defending our territory," she said.

The police would not comment on the alleged attacks.

Berta CaceresSuch is the danger that in recent years she and Benitez, along with Caceres and dozens of other Honduran activists, have been granted precautionary measures by the IACHR, which is part of the Organization of American States.

This means the IACHR deems their lives to be at risk, and has asked the Honduran government to take steps to protect them.

But some activists, including Caceres, refused the offer of government protection, citing mistrust of state security forces.


For rarely are the murderers caught. About 80 percent of murders in the Central American nation go unpunished, including killings of activists, according to IACHR's latest report.


In Caceres' case, eight people have been arrested in connection with her murder, including current and former Honduran military personnel.

But her family accuses the political elite and state security forces of orchestrating the murder and have demanded an independent investigation, a request the government has denied.

"I have encouraged them (Berta's children) to continue with this fight," Caceres' mother, 80-year-old Austraberta Flores, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Of course it's risky, but if we don't make the sacrifice, it will be impossible to stop the destruction of the country."

Honduras has pledged to do more to protect activists, bring criminals to justice and push forward a law that would better regulate consultations between companies and local communities.

Last year Honduras introduced a scheme aimed at keeping the activists safe - providing protection, including bodyguards and mobile phones, to about 74 people, mostly rights defenders.

State prosecutors continue to investigate the murder of Caceres and other activists, said vice minister Cerrato.

"Everyone wants immediate results," she said.

"But I don't think it's that easy to obtain such fast results if we want to make an effective and in-depth investigation. We need to be a bit patient."

Activists feel no safer - and vow to keep on fighting, and to the death if that is what is takes.

"Our territory is life itself," said Pineda. "If we don't protect it, who will?"


This is part of the series “The Politics of Death," reporting a global wave of violence against communities fighting for their lands. To find out why, read the full story here.

Thomson Reuters Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Thomson Reuters, the world’s biggest news & information provider. Our videos cover underreported humanitarian

The Colombian soldier Mauricio Calvo shares his experience as part of a burgeoning industry of men who travel the world to fight in other people's wars.
They grew up in Chicago and their husbands, the Flores twins (aka ‘Los Mellizos’), worked for the Sinaloa cartel. The twins later became DEA informants in Mexico who helped bring down El Chapo Guzman. They have written a book, Cartel Wives, telling their story as a lesson to others not to fall for the narco life, and they regret what they put their families through. "Our fathers put on their suit of armor and their badge, and they are going out there on the streets of Chicago,” Mia confesses. “It’s the very same streets that our husbands were flooding with drugs.”
Nelson Denis, author of 'War Against All Puerto Ricans,' details how the commonwealth's 119-year-long association with the U.S. has produced total economic and governing dependence. With over $70 billion in crushing debt, Puerto Rico's governor turned to the courts on Wednesday to put certain debts before a federal bankruptcy court.
We traveled to Ciudad Juárez to see if hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Mexican maquiladora industry would return to the United States if Trump were to modify or abandon the NAFTA free trade agreement, as his government is considering. A border tax would have serious consequences in Mexican cities.
A wave of demonstrations in Venezuela has left several dead and hundreds more detained in the last two weeks. Univision reporter Tamoa Calzadilla explains how a democratic crisis, inflation and shortages of food and medicine have sent Venezuelans into the streets.
As the legend goes, a UFO landed in Capilla del Monte in 1986, leaving a mark on the side of the Pajarillo mountains. Since then, this Argentinian village has lived off UFO tourism. It's currently hosting its annual Alien Festival.
The announcement to scrap the benefits came as a bucket of cold water for the Cuban migrants who just arrived in the United States. As this group waits for their papers, the uncertainty grows on whether they will ever be reunited with the relatives they left on the island.
A group of Argentines diagnosed with mental illness set up a radio station from where they broadcast their experiences
How Fidel Castro's plan to save Cuban baseball unraveled. The once mighty amateur baseball champions have lost much of their talent in recent years to U.S. Major League Baseball. Now the Cuban government is in discussions with MLB to stop the desertions. But will a Trump presidency make that more difficult?
A half-century of armed conflict has left behind 8 million victims in Colombia. It has also affected the country's unique natural resources. We explore the war’s impact on Colombia’s environment.
Forty three students in Mexico were abducted two years ago, and to this day, none have ever been found. When his son Jorge disappeared, New York City plumber Antonio Tizapa began to run marathons, not to win, but to send a message at the end of each race: he won’t stop until he finds his son or the truth about what really happened on that shameful day. On Sunday, Antonio and 20 friends will be running the New York City Marathon.
The evidence against El Chapo: undercover recordings, intercepted communications, protected witnesses’ declarations, drug seizures, and a confession. As U.S. prosecutors prepare their case against the world's most feared drug trafficker, this is what the government's case is built around.
Six months after the U.S. president visited the island, Cubans are divided over his impact. A government reform program is on hold as anxious residents pray for a tourist invasion.
Thousands of students attend the 12 primary and secondary schools in the mostly Hispanic neighborhood of Wilmington, Los Angeles. In schools like Hawaiian Avenue Elementary School, where many students suffer from respiratory diseases, a nurse is more important than a librarian.
Exercise or stay inside. This is the dilemma that the inhabitants of Wilmington, California face everyday. The air quality is among the worst of the United States due to the closeness of 5 refineries, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles as well as several highways. “We go out running, and after a few minutes my nose hurts and it’s hard to breathe”, said Jhovana Ruelas.
Inhabitants of the heavily Latino neighborhood of Wilmington, in Los Angeles, California, live surrounded by toxins. To the west is the Phillips 66 refinery, to the east is Route 110 and to the south is the L.A. port, the most active port in the United States. In most families, at least one person suffers from respiratory conditions, asthma and even cancer.
Esta escuela les permite a estudiantes de Puerto Rico seguir sus estudios tras el huracán María
Miami Breakthrough, una innovadora escuela en Miami, le permitió a Edgar Negrón seguir estudiando las vitales materias de STEM, sin la presión de los exámenes o las tareas para enfocarse solo en aprender.
¿Cuál es el papel de la tecnología en las escuelas?
En la enseñanza híbrida, o 'blended learning', la tecnología es una herramienta vital para los maestros en los salones de clase. Usan el e-mail, videos online, Google docs, juegos interactivos y mucho más para impulsar el potencial de los estudiantes.
Un maestro de California quiere incluir clase de computación en todas las escuelas públicas del país
Art López ha trabajado por más de tres décadas como maestro y sus esfuerzos por ampliar la enseñanza STEM han sido premiados por la Casa Blanca. Nos cuenta por qué la computación es tan importante para el futuro de los niños.
Este programa de MIT para niños hispanos quiere cerrar la brecha de las minorías en STEM
Aunque los hispanos son 17% de la fuerza laboral, apenas 7% de los trabajos son en STEM. La prestigiosa universidad MIT ofrece un programa gratuito llamado SEED para niños de middle school hispanos para cerrar esa brecha.
Estudiar Ciencias y Matemáticas, una fórmula para el éxito
Los trabajos en las Ciencias y Matemáticas son los trabajos del futuro. ¿Cómo estamos preparando para esto a nuestros estudiantes de todas las edades? Te explicamos los retos, las soluciones, los pasos y consejos para triunfar en estas carreras.
Fiesta en una casa terminó con un hombre muerto
Las autoridades acudieron al llamado y tratan de determinar si el arma con la que fue baleada la víctima fue activada de manera accidental. El reporte de las autoridades señala que se presentó una discusión entre personas conocidas y que quien disparó huyó del lugar y luego regresó a la escena para entregarse a la policía.
¿Qué deben hacer los hondureños favorecidos con TPS?
El experto en inmigración, Raed González, aclaró algunas dudas sobre el futuro de hondureños favorecidos con TPS. El abogado recomendó a estas personas volver a inscribirse entre el 15 de diciembre de este año y el 13 de febrero de 2018, y luego solicitar su permiso de trabajo, esto con el fin de tener los documentos al día y evitar un arresto y una deportación.
¿Qué hacer en caso de ser víctima de violencia doméstica?
La directora de la Asociación de Ayuda a Víctimas de Violencia Doméstica, AVDA, aseguró que desde su organización brindan asistencia gratuita a quienes sufren de este flagelo. Indicó que con solo una llamada se puede solicitar el servicio que consta de una abogada y un asistente legal para que los represente en la corte. 
Bills doblegan a Dolphins y siguen soñando con su regreso a playoffs
Buffalo (8-6) derrotó 24-16 a Miami (6-8) en duelo de la AFC Este correspondiente a la Semana 15.
Michael Tomas y Mark Ingram levantaron a los Saints para derrotar a Jets
New Orleans (10-4) sufrió al principio pero se terminó imponiendo 31-19 a New York (5-9) en la Semana 15, para seguir encabezando la NFC Sur.
Foles luce en remontada de Eagles 34-29 sobre Giants
El quarterback de Philadelphia se lució con cuatro pases de TD para comandar el ataque y la remontada sobre Nueva York.
Saints se imponen a Jets con gran tarde de Mark Ingram
New Orleans batalló para derrotar al conjunto de New York pero terminó sacando la victoria gracias a su corredor y a Michael Thomas.