Authorities in Honduras order exhumation of land activist


TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Honduran authorities on Monday ordered the exhumation of the body of a mainland defender who died under unknown circumstances near the country’s Caribbean coast.

Members of an ethnic group of mixed African and indigenous people believe that Ricardo Arnaúl Montero’s death was a murder linked to a long-running land dispute.

Police initially treated Saturday’s death as a drowning, but his body was buried before an investigation could be conducted.

The Black Brotherhood of Honduras, which works with Garifuna communities, said Montero had received death threats since November.

Miriam Miranda, the organization’s general coordinator, known as Ofraneh, said: “He died as if he had drowned and there was no autopsy. “We don’t believe that. He was assassinated.”

Neither police nor Miranda have provided any details about the circumstances of Montero’s death in the Triunfo de la Cruz community in Tela.

If Montero is killed, he will at least be the third mainland defender to be killed in northern Honduras this year.

Earlier this month, Aly Domínguez and Jairo Bonilla were riding motorbikes between La Concepción and Guapinol when they were shot. Both men are known to be guardians of nearby Carlos Escaleras National Park.

Miranda said Montero lives along the Gama River and actively protects lands where outsiders have pushed into areas traditionally populated by Garifuna. For years, she said, Garifuna in the area has denounced intrusions, harassment and the disappearance of other activists.

In 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights decided in favor of Garifuna of Triunfo de la Cruz and against the Honduran government for violating their collective property rights.

“Since the sentence was handed down, the conflict escalated and it will continue,” Miranda said.

Alice Shackelford, the United Nations representative to Honduras, called for an end to the killings in a tweet on Sunday, criticizing the “relentless violence against defenders of (human rights) in Honduras.”

However, Tulio Enrique Martínez, president of the community association in Triunfo de la Cruz, known as a patron, said Montero’s death was distorted and no crime was committed.

“They want to somehow smear our city in a way that discourages tourism,” says Martínez.

Cristian Nolasco, a spokesman for the Coroner’s Office, said authorities will conduct an autopsy after Montero’s body is exhumed to determine the cause of death.


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