Honduran lawyers' murders shock global community

Advocate was battling landowner to reclaim property for rural workers

The body of prosecutor Manuel Díaz Mazariegos lies in a street of Choluteca.
The body of prosecutor Manuel Díaz Mazariegos lies in a street of Choluteca. AP

Honduras was left reeling this week after the murders of two human rights lawyers, gunned down in separate incidents within 24 hours. The assassinations have sparked outrage in Madrid and Washington.

Antonio Trejo Cabrera, who was defending rural workers in their land battle in Bajo Aguán, in the country's eastern Colón department, was shot dead early Sunday near the Toncontín International Airport after he reportedly left a wedding in the capital, Tegucigalpa. He had recently asked authorities to provide protection for him and his family.

On Monday, Manuel Eduardo Díaz Mazariegos, a 40-year-old prosecutor in charge of human rights investigations in the city of Choluteca, south of Tegucigalpa, was shot after he left the local courthouse on foot on the way to his office. Two gunmen on a passing motorcycle shot him 11 times, and he died shortly afterwards. Police arrested one suspect, Jorli Francisco Amador, 30, in a raid, La Prensa of Tegucigalpa reported on Wednesday.

In Washington, the US State Department called on the Honduran government to "conduct a transparent" investigation into these crimes. Trejo Cabrera had also told US authorities that he feared for his life.

"If something should happen to me, my property or my family, Miguel Facussé should be held responsible [...] because there could be an attempt by a hitman now that he knows that the lawsuits filed against him are prospering in the courts, and that it is only a matter of time before the rural workers will be able to reclaim the lands illegally taken from them," reads the statement.

In ads appearing in Honduran newspapers, Facussé, a powerful landowner in Colón, denied he was responsible for the murder.

Mazariegos was shot 11 times by gunmen on a passing motorcycle

"We don't have any accurate information about these incidents but we are starting full investigations and moving our people to find the culprits behind these murders," said Honduran Security Minister Popeyo Bonilla on Tuesday.

In Madrid, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the assassinations. "The valiant fight for the defense of human rights by these two deceased victims must go on and should never be forgotten," it read.

On Monday, Victoria Nuland, a US State Department spokesperson, said a US Special Victims Task Force is assisting the Honduran investigation. "Mr Trejo Cabrera worked tirelessly to resolve the tragic and complex land conflict in Honduras' Bajo Aguán, relying on legal challenges and negotiations in a region where disputes are too often settled through violence. We urge all parties to continue his efforts to bring peace to the Bajo Aguán," she said in a statement.

According to the United Nations, Honduras has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with 86 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants. In January 2012, the US Peace Corps suspended its program in order to review the safety and security of its volunteers, according to the State Department

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