Suspect Arrested in Murder of Honduran Activist, But Justice Still Elusive

An Indigenous man holds a Honduran national flag during a march to demand justice for slain environmental rights activists Berta Caceres and Nelson Garcia in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 16, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Jorge Cabrera)

Suspect Arrested in Murder of Honduran Activist, But Justice Still Elusive

"There is a lot of fear because in Honduras there is total insecurity and impunity."

Honduran authorities have arrested a suspect in the murder of environmentalist Nelson Garcia, the Indigenous activist and father of five who was killed on March 15, less than two weeks after the assassination of his colleague Berta Caceres.

Reutersreports that Didier Enrique "Electric" Ramirez was apprehended for his alleged role in the murder of Garcia, "who was shot dead earlier this month by at least two assailants following a dispute with local landowners," Honduran officials said in a statement on Sunday.

Both Caceres and Garcia were members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous organizations of Honduras, known as COPINH.

As Common Dreams reported at the time, news outlets said Garcia's death occurred shortly after the Honduran government dispatched riot police and bulldozers to evict 150 Indigenous people from their homes in Rio Chiquito, where they had occupied ancestral land for two years in protest of the Agua Zarca megadam project.

According to the statement by the Honduran Public Prosecutor, "Ramirez was waiting for Garcia's arrival before ambushing him as he parked his car," TeleSUR reports.

Meanwhile, a lawyer representing activist Gustavo Castro, the sole witness to Caceres' murder--who was wounded in the attack and survived only because he pretended to be dead--"is appealing to the Mexican government to help secure his release amid mounting concern he could be framed for the killing," the Guardianreported Monday.

Castro, coordinator of Friends of the Earth Mexico and director of the Chiapas-based NGO Otros Mundos, has been forbidden from leaving Honduras for 30 days, or until April 6. He has been forced to take refuge in the Mexican embassy in Tegucigalpa.

In an interview with the Guardian, attorney Miguel Angel de los Santos said he was concerned for Castro's safety and called on Mexico's president Enrique Pena Nieto to intervene.

"There is a lot of fear because in Honduras there is total insecurity and impunity--and blaming someone close to Berta would be the easiest and most convenient thing to do," he said. "We need action at the highest diplomatic level to get Gustavo home."

He added: "Under Honduran law, witnesses and victims of crimes cannot be prevented from leaving the country. Gustavo's detention is totally illegal and arbitrary."

These remarks echo concerns raised by international observers, including Mexico's ambassador to Honduras, Dolores Jimenez, and Castro himself.

"Beyond being inconvenient for knowing too much, the eyewitness falls into the repressive government's category of public enemy," Other Worlds founder and human rights advocate Beverly Bell wrote last week. "Like Caceres, Castro has been a vocal opponent of dam construction on Indigenous rivers, as well as of the broad powers given to transnational corporations and the local elite to undermine democracy and plunder the riches of nature."

Earlier this month, BBC reported, Honduran police said they had arrested a man and minor who they alleged were responsible for Caceres' murder.

But Caceres' family and comrades continue to call for an impartial, independent investigation into what they see as a targeted killing.

Indeed, the activist's daughter and nephew have traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby for such a probe as well as for the U.S. to stop supporting what they see as a repressive, violent, and corrupt Honduran regime.

Caceres' nephew, documentary filmmaker Silvio Carillo, said Sunday: "This government is nothing but a criminal syndicate who is enriching themselves and doing nothing for the people of this country."

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