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Honduras Investigates Killings of 2 Indigenous Leaders 

FILE - Via Campesina farmers group coordinator Rafael Alegria speaks at a press conference in Tegucigalpa, Sept. 27, 2012. Alegria says activists have been reporting harassment from mining, timber and hydroelectric companies and landowners for years.

Honduran authorities said Wednesday that they were investigating the killings of two activists and Indigenous leaders slain in separate incidents over the weekend.

Félix Vásquez, a longtime environmental activist from the Lenca indigenous group, was shot by masked men in front of relatives Saturday in his home in Santiago de Puringla.

On Sunday, Jose Adán Medina was found shot to death in a remote location in the community of El Volcan, also in western Honduras. Medina was a member of the Tolupan Indigenous group.

Vásquez, who was seeking the nomination of the opposition Libre party to run for congress, had fought hydroelectric projects and land abuses for years. National elections are scheduled for March.

Yuri Mora, spokesman for the Honduras prosecutor's office, said that the office on ethnic groups and cultural patrimony was investigating Vásquez's killing. He said investigators had executed searches and were about to call people in to make statements, but no arrests had been made.

He said Vázquez had filed complaints with the prosecutor's office in the past against hydroelectric projects and on land management issues.

Honduras' National Human Rights Commission condemned both killings and said it would investigate. It confirmed that Vásquez had reported threats and harassment. The commission had requested protective measures for Vásquez in January 2020, but they were never carried out.

'Union of terrible interests'

Rafael Alegría, coordinator of the nongovernmental organization Via Campesina in Honduras, said Vásquez had been filing complaints and reporting threats since 2017, but the government never acted.

Alegría, himself a former national lawmaker, said that activists had been reporting harassment from mining, timber and hydroelectric companies, as well as large landowners, in the La Paz department for years.

"There is a union of terrible interests in western Honduras," Alegría said. "There is constant persecution of farmers and Indigenous communities. They murdered Bertha Cáceres in Intibuca and now Félix Vásquez, and others have been threatened."

Cáceres, also a Lenca environmental activist, was killed in March 2016, when gunmen burst into her home and shot her. Her slaying captured global attention in part because she had been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. She fought for years against a dam project. Several men have been convicted in her murder, but her family continues to pursue justice against those believed to be the masterminds.

Honduras is among the world's most deadly nations for environmental activists. Via Campesina says that 12 activists have been killed there in 2020. In March, Global Witness reported that 27 environmental activists had been killed in Honduras since Caceres' murder.

Dania Cruz, spokeswoman for the National Police, said they were investigating the deaths of Vásquez and Medina, but told local media she wouldn't share additional information to avoid interfering with the investigations.