REPORT:

Threats, murder, silence – hunting season for environmental journalists in Honduras

A supporter of slain Honduran environmental and Indigenous rights activist Berta Caceres holds a flyer with her image calling for justice, during a protest as the trial against Roberto David Castillo Mejia goes on in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Monday, July 5, 2021. A court has unanimously found Castillo Mejia guilty of participating in the killing of Caceres, who was shot by armed men at her home on March 3, 2016, considering him the mastermind of the crime. Photo: TT/AP Photo/Elmer Martinez

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Threats, murder, silence – hunting season for environmental journalists in Honduras

227 climate activists were killed in 2020, per Global Witness’ latest report. Most of the killings occurred in Latin America; and especially worrisome is the situation in Central America, where the most climate activists, per capita, lost their lives in Nicaragua and Honduras.

Global Magazine has spoken to one Honduran environmental reporter who focuses on landgrabbing, the rights of indigenous peoples, and illegal mining. An area of reporting nowadays attached to various forms of intimidation and threats.

By Klas Lundström

HONDURAS In the summer of 2009, Honduras’ legally elected President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a military coup. The coup laid the foundation for rebuilt relations to the influential northern neighbour, the United States, and halted various progressive social initiatives, recently implemented by President Zelaya’s administration.

New elections, boycotted by 70 percent of the voters, were immediately approved by then-U.S. President Barack Obama – but criticized by most of Honduras regional neighbours. The outcome, nonetheless, secured the comeback of the country’s historically influential land, political, and military oligarchy to power.

Human rights organisations have ever since the 2009 coup grown more appalled by the Central American nation’s development. Local reporters, union representatives, and – especially – climate and environmental activists have been subjected to an increasing number of threats, repression, intimidation or have been murdered.

Killed environmental activists

Worldwide some 227 environmental activists were killed in 2020, per Global Witness’ latest report. 70 percent of all documented cases are linked to various kinds of land related issues – and the vast majority occurred in the rainforest of South America, in Brazil and Colombia.

Honduras displays, besides Nicaragua, the highest number of killed environmental activists per capita – 17 killings in 2020. Not at all surprising, says Ana López, an environmental reporter, in an interview with Global Magazine.

“We’ve been living in the middle of a permanent crisis ever since the coup,” says Ana López, which isn’t her real name. “Everyone who, in any way, challenges the power groups who reap the fruits of landgrabbing, drug trafficking or logging have to put up with intimidation, threatening phone calls or being subjected to physical violence.”

The Mosquito Coast – “a blank spot”

Along Honduras’ Atlantic coast, a region called La Mosquitia, or the Mosquito Coast, the situation is especially worrisome.

“It’s very hard; nowadays the Mosquito Coast is an enclosed world, a blank spot. Information about abuses there seldom reaches the outside world,” says Ana López.

The top of the list summarised in the Global Witness report consists of already politically and socially troubled nations where environmental activists challenge the powers in place at large risk. In the Philippines, for example, populist President Rodrigo Duterte has openly called for repression of environmental activists and has given voice to nothing but contempt for independent reporting.

Rodrigo is not alone: his attitude towards environmentalism and independent reporting is echoed in many countries, e.g., Brazil and Nicaragua, two nations ruled by authoritarian leaders: Jair Bolsonaro and Daniel Ortega, respectively.

No power to the people

The number of worldwide killings of environmental activists might just be the tip of a hidden iceberg, warns Global Witness. The total number might be even higher than the documented 227, due to the limitations of access to regions and corners of where environmental conflicts occur behind closed doors.

In Honduras, the government is now led by President Juan Orlando Hernández, a politician who U.S. prosecutors in the spring of 2019 started to investigate for drug trafficking and money laundering – schemes which is thought to also include several of the President’s family members.

President HernĂĄndez’ administration has not been able, or willing, to improve the climate for democracy champions, environmental activists, and independent reporters – nor has Honduras taken any interest in signing the EscazĂș Agreement, which would give the public greater insights and possibilities to participate in socially and environmentally related issues.

“A failed state?”

Honduras also continues to fall on Reporters Without Borders’ index of global freedom of press and information. The troublesome development is, even per the press freedom advocacy organisation, related to the ousting of President Zelaya in 2009.

“Ever since the coup d’état in 2009, the plight of the media has worsened steadily in Honduras, which continues to be one of the western hemisphere’s deadliest countries for journalists. Those working for opposition media or community media are often subjected to harassment, intimidation campaigns and death threats, and some are forced to flee abroad,” writes Reporters Without Borders in its Honduras analysis.

Environmental reporter Ana López neither has the possibility nor the capital to seek a new life past the Honduran borders. The situation is what it is, she says – but neither Global Witness’ latest report nor the situation analysis by Reporters Without Borders changes any facts on the ground. There, in the field where local reporters operate, often in areas of conflicts related to landgrabbing, illegal mining, and organised crime groups’ expanding control of drugs and human trafficking, violence and a possible death sentence is never too far away.

“There’s no other choice but to keep reporting about these issues. If we don’t, who will?” asks Ana López; a question aimed as much to herself, as to the world beyond Honduras.

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Further reading:

Death in the village: Witnesses of El Mozote

War on journalism – The hidden pandemic

West Papuan minors killed in Indonesian air raids

 

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