TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — The US embassy is helping Honduran authorities investigate the murder of a prominent human rights lawyer who had represented agrarian groups against a multi-national palm-oil company and other landowners, a US official said yesterday.
The embassy offered a US law enforcement adviser already embedded with a specially vetted unit of Honduran police to look into the assassination of Antonio Trejo Cabrera, 41, who was ambushed by gunmen early Sunday after attending a wedding in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.
Trejo's family was visibly upset at authorities, including an American woman who accompanied them to question the family after Trejo's memorial yesterday. The woman wouldn't identify herself, adding, "This is an active police investigation and this is the only thing I am going to say."
His family said he had reported many threats and had asked for government protection.
"Nobody cared," said his brother, Rigoberto Trejo, 35.
"We asked the police and the prosecutor's office for protection and they never responded," added Enrique Flores Lanza, secretary of the board of directors for the Honduran Bar Association.
Trejo, who was shot six times, was a lawyer for three peasant cooperatives in the Bajo Aguan, a fertile farming area plagued by violent conflicts between agrarian organisations and land owners. The most prominent is Dinant Corporation, owned by billionaire Miguel Facusse, one of Honduras' richest men. Thousands of once-landless workers hold about 12,000 acres of plantations they seized from Dinant.
Before his death, Trejo had publicly said that if he was killed, Facusse would be responsible.
Roger Pineda, Dinant's executive director, denied that Facusse was behind Trejo's killing, saying he "regretted that the lawyer said in public on repeated occasions that Don Miguel (Facusse) would be responsible for his death".
"Even though we had differences with him, we mourn his death," said Pineda on Sunday.
Honduras, considered to be one of the world's most dangerous countries, is plagued by assassinations of journalists, lawyers and public officials, very few of which are ever prosecuted. No arrests have been made in Trejo's killing.
More than 60 people, most of them farmers, some of them Facusse employees, have been killed over the past three years in the conflict over the Bajo Aguan Valley, according to activists, police and Facusse's company.
Trejo had recently helped farmers gain legal rights to several plantations.
Trejo had also helped prepare motions declaring unconstitutional a proposal between the Honduran government and a US company, MGK Group, to build three privately-run cities with their own police, laws and tax systems.
Just hours before his murder, Trejo had participated in a televised debate in which he accused congressional leaders of using the private city projects to raise campaign funds.
MGK director Michael Strong said the company is "horrified" by Trejo's killing.