Eleven environmental groups with millions of members worldwide are demanding action from Honduran President Manuel Zelaya following the alleged murder by state police of two Honduran activists, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Investigation Agency.
On the eve of the first anniversary of his inauguration, President Zelaya faces an international outcry over the Dec. 20 shooting deaths of Heraldo Zúñiga and Roger Iván Murillo, in the town of Guarizama, in central Honduras.
The two men were local leaders in the Environmental Movement of Olancho (MAO), a grassroots organization that fights illegal and unsustainable logging by commercial timber companies in their community forests.
The police officers who allegedly shot them were supposedly acting under the influence of the country’s powerful timber interests, the environmentalists charge.
Zelaya took office on Jan. 27, 2006, voicing strong commitments to crack down on illegal logging. Environmentalists estimate that up to 50% of timber in Honduras is illegally harvested; the United States is the primary market for its pine and mahogany products.
Zúñiga and Murillo are among eight environmental activists killed since 1995 in Honduras, five of them in the department of Olancho.
Although MAO’s guiding force, Father Andrés Tamayo, has brought international attention to his cause in recent years, he and his fellow leaders continue to be subject to regular death threats and intimidation.
The coalition’s letter emphasizes the need for Zelaya’s government to “give this case the thorough attention and due process it requires to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice, and do everything in your power to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Members of the coalition voiced serious concerns about Honduras’ environmental commitment in light of the killings.
“These terrible murders shine a spotlight on the forest sector of Honduras. The sector suffers from grave mismanagement,” said Patrick Alley, director of Global Witness, which has conducted an Independent Forest Monitoring program in the country.
Allan Thornton, President of the Environmental Investigation Agency, which documented the country’s illegal timber trade in a widely publicized 2005 report, echoed those concerns.
“Will Honduras’s track record of impunity for crimes against forests and against the people who fight for them continue?” he asked.
Adding to environmentalists’ concerns is a controversial new dam, the “Patuca 3,” planned for the country’s largest river.
“We only hope that people who dare to challenge this dam initiative will not be silenced in what we fear is becoming the Olancho way,” said Osvaldo Mungía, Executive Director of the Honduran organization MOPAWI. In 2001, an activist was killed for protesting a dam project in the same region.