Masked men armed with guns and machetes have killed a Honduran environmentalist activist in front of his family, police said on Monday, the latest in a string of such attacks in the Central American country.
Felix Vasquez, a defender of environmental and human rights, died on Saturday night after the attack in the village El Ocotal, in central Honduras.
A law enforcement spokesman told the news agency Reuters the killing was under investigation.
“Police authorities immediately decided to initiate a corresponding investigation … we hope to have an answer soon,” police official Kevin Hernandez told journalists.
The violent killing met widespread condemnation. Former President Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed following a 2009 military coup, tweeted “We condemn the assassination of Felix Vasquez, Indigenous leader, defender of the rivers and forests”.
Condenamos asesinato de Félix Vásquez, dirigente, y líder indígena, defensor de los rios y los bosques, luchador de @PartidoLibre y pre candidato a diputado por @Somosmashn, Dept de la PAZ. @PartidoLibre
— Manuel Zelaya R. (@manuelzr) December 27, 2020
Honduras is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for activists, with 14 land and environmental defenders killed last year, up from four people in 2018, according to data made available by advocacy group Global Witness.
Vasquez, a member of the Indigenous Lenca community which lives in the mountainous region near the border with El Salvador, had intended to run for Congress as a member of the opposition LIBRE party in 2021 elections.
He had filed complaints to national authorities starting in 2017 about alleged political persecution due to his work in environmental activism, according to the Coalition against Impunity (CCI according to its Spanish acronym), an NGO.
“The state is directly responsible for his murder due to its omissions in the face of the serious risks of which it was duly aware,” the CCI said.
The Honduran government did not immediately reply to Reuter’s request for comment.
Vasquez’s killing comes four years after the assassination of Lenca Indigenous activist Berta Caceres, a veteran land rights defender who led a battle against a large dam on ancestral lands before she was shot to death at her home.