Honduras Remains a Hostile Environment for Journalists
This month, two journalists were murdered in Honduras. The first was Erick Martinez, a noted LGBT rights activist and reporter. Martinez spent his career standing up for the rights of the LGBT community in Honduras, a project that faced many obstacles. Just a few years ago, another noted LGBT activist, Walter Tróchez, was killed. Many LGBT protesters lament that at least 85 LGBT deaths have not been solved.
Martinez was found strangled at the beginning of May, two days after he went missing. His death was quickly followed by the death of another noted journalist, Alfredo Villatoro. Villatoro was a radio reporter who was abducted on his way to work. He had been missing for a number of days when he was found murdered on May 16.
Both men were well-known personalities in the Honduran landscape. Martinez was a possible presidential candidate hoping to represent a coalition of parties that had formed last year. Villatoro stated that he had received death threats in the past, according to the BBC.
Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world at about 86 murders per 100,000 residents, the UN reports. Activists argue that at least 20 reporters have been murdered over the last few years since the ousting of then-president Manuel Zelaya in 2009. None of these murders have been solved or thoroughly investigated.
These circumstances made a group of about 5,000 Hondurans take to the street this past week in a show of solidarity against the high murder rate. The BBC reports that the demonstraters shouted, “Killing journalists doesn’t kill the truth” as they marched through the capital of Tegucigalpa to the presidential palace. It appears that thousands of people in other cities, such as San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba and Comayagua marched in similar protest on Friday as well.
Although five people, including a policeman, have been arrested in connection with the murder of Alfreda Villatoro’s death, the case remains unsolved. The current president, Porfirio Lobo, maintains that reform is on its way and that a thorough purging of the police force is necessary to ensure safety for citizens. President Lobo also maintains that a healthy democracy and freedom of speech will be protected under his watch.
The high murder rate and the unstable environment came about in the three years since former president, Manuel Zelaya, was forcefully ousted from office by the military. The coup was not supported by the Obama administration and the entire operation left Honduras on uncertain footing.
The United States maintains a tense relationship with Honduras. Just this month, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns met with President Lobo to reassure the leader that the United States maintains “strong support for the Honduran government’s efforts to confront criminal organizations.”
Still, the United States has also had a hand to play in some of the recent violence wracking the country. DEA agents from the United States were most likely involved in recent destructive missions to stop the movement of drugs in Honduras, in which innocent civilians were shot at.
Regardless of international relations with the United States, journalists on the ground face a difficult situation in which safety is not guaranteed. No one has suggested a feasible way to protect working journalists on the ground from abduction or harm.
Photo Credit: Yamil Gonzalez