The Murder of Walter Trochez: Political Violence and Impunity in Honduras
This article originally appeared in Huffington Post on December 13, 2010
Today marks the one year anniversary of the assassination of Walter Trochez, a human rights, LGBTQ and democracy activist in Honduras. His death, like those of many other activists, LGBTQ leaders, journalists, unionists and teachers has been nominally investigated by a police force that itself has been implicated in violence against civilians since the coup on June 28, 2009. Despite the efforts of the U.S. State Department, multinational corporations, the Government of Honduras and their lobbyists to portray the current situation as sporadic violence, attributable to generic 'crime' within a post-election return to normalcy, it is clear that targeted bloodshed and a culture of impunity has taken hold.
Trochez was abducted on December 4, 2009 by four masked men in civilian clothes who beat him and ordered him to give up the names and addresses of political activists. According to Amnesty International they told him "Even if you give us the information we're going to kill you, we have orders to kill you." Trochez was able to escape at that time but was later shot to death by gunmen in police uniforms, according to witnesses. This style of abduction, assault, interrogation and homicide is reminiscent of the brutal tactics of Battalion 3-16, an intelligence unit within the Honduran Army that was notorious for their death squad tactics and use of torture, which was later found out to have received training in the United States. COFADEH (The Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras) and the journalist Jeremy Kryt have denounced what they see as a new wave of state sponsored death squads.
Walter Trochez was a well known activist who worked to build coalitions between the National Resistance Front and the LGBTQ community. At 27-years-old, he was the General Coordinator for the Sexual Diversity Advocacy Group and a co-founder of the Committee of Auditors, an organization that worked to end violence and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS. Following the coup he began compiling information on the murders of LGBTQ resistance members which he saw as part of a continuum of homophobic violence. His work was a powerful indictment of those who participated in the coup and its brutality. Trochez's voice still resonates in a vibrant and committed resistance movement which has actively and intentionally integrated feminist and queer spaces.
Despite demands for a full independent investigation by Amnesty International, PFLAG, Human Rights Watch, Rights Action and other organizations, the Honduran government only partially bowed to calls to open an inquiry to Trochez's murder under the Attorney General's Office, although not an independent one. The Honduran Police have affirmed the beginning of an investigation and have denied any law enforcement involvement or collusion in the murder. A secretive organization that employs violence and coercion investigating itself is a hallmark of impunity and is something that should concern all who value human rights.
In August of 2009, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report based on the testimonies of over one hundred survivors of violence in Honduras. Testimony in the report suggests police participation in shootings, beatings, arbitrary use of tear gas, sexual assault and rape. More than a year later, many more people have been killed and injured. Luis Rubí, the Attorney General, has responded to calls for UN investigations by denying their necessity, claiming that the state's own institutions are strong enough to investigate themselves. This lack of oversight has extended to the Truth Commission, created pursuant to the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord, in which those who plotted, authorized and carried out the coup are now charged with conducting a probe into illegal actions.
The recently leaked State Department cable "Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup," is clear in describing the removal of President Zelaya as illegal. The conclusions were ignored by the State Department that instead began pressing for normalization of relations with the coup government. Only 142 days after the coup had been declared illegal by the highest U.S. representative in Honduras, Walter Trochez was murdered; his name added to a still growing list of victims of political violence targeted at those who stand against the coup and the corrupted political process that followed. The murderers might have been Honduran, but they were assisted by lobbyists in Washington who helped pave the way for diplomatic normalization. Reckless policies have a human cost and have resulted in unnecessary deaths. Those in the United States and elsewhere who assisted in solidifying the coup must be held accountable.
Mourning and nation building are inextricably linked. By remembering Walter Trochez we add our voices to the calls of the resistance for a re-founding of Honduras on the basis of human rights, dignity and accountability. As the protest signs say: "The victims have names, so do the murderers."
This article was researched and co-authored by Joshua Birch