Terror in the dark: Honduran land rights activist fears for her children but vows to fight on

By Paola Totaro LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Award-winning Honduran land rights activist Ana Mirian Romero spends her days fighting for her children's future - and her nights fearing they will be killed in their sleep. "I live every day with the fear of raids on my home where my children sleep," said the mother of five, who has received multiple death threats during her long battle against a hydroelectric dam in the southwest of the country. "(But) for me, defending my land is about defending my children's future." Honduras has the highest murder rate for environmental activists in the world, according to advocacy group Global Witness. But Romero, who recently won the 2016 Front Line Defenders Award for her campaign work, said her love of the land, forests and river that sustained her ancestors would not allow her to give up. "The risks (land) defenders face in Honduras are physically dangerous and psychologically exhausting," Romero, a member of the indigenous Lenca community, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation through a translator. "But I do this because if they come to take away the water and my homeland, it is like they take away the life from a person. I decided to become a defender until the last day that God may give me." GUNNED DOWN Between 2010 and 2015, 109 activists were killed defending their land and local environment, according to Global Witness which campaigns against corruption and environmental abuse. Six of the eight victims whose cases were reported publicly last year were from indigenous groups, it said. In March, high profile environmental campaigner Berta Caceres, winner of last year's prestigious Goldman Environmental prize, was gunned down in her home at night. Just days later, fellow activist, Nelson Garcia, was shot in the face by an unidentified gunman sparking demands for an urgent investigation by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Romero, a member of the Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz (MILPAH), knows only too well the terrible fate of some of her fellow defenders but says the attacks have bolstered her courage. "When Berta Caceres died, for us it was as if it gave us more power. It (didn't) make us more afraid but it gave us more strength, it was impossible for us to stop," she said. Activists reported this week that Martin Gomez Vasquez, a MILPAH leader in Romero's village of Santa Elena, was cornered and stoned in an attack last month. Vasquez was able to escape but told police that he heard one of his attackers speak into a phone saying they would find and visit him in the night to harm his family. Police ordered special patrols for the family but activists say nobody has been prosecuted. ARSON ATTACK Romero has been an activist in her area since 2010 when MILPAH filed a lawsuit for recognition of the community's ancestral land and has actively resisted the installation of the Los Encinos hydroelectric dam ever since. She said the community wanted no more than clean air and water and insists she is a "defender not fighter". Romero said that in the past year her home had been raided by armed men as she and her children slept and she had been assaulted when heavily pregnant. Her daughters have also been threatened by armed intruders and in January last year, the family home was burnt down in an arson attack. Romero had never been outside Honduras before flying to Dublin in June to collect her award with her four-month-old baby Priscilla. Santa Elena in the La Paz region is so remote that in order to reach the car that would take her to the airport in the capital Tegucgalpa, Romero had to trek for three hours with her baby after torrential rains and mud closed local roads. Romero said she felt far safer during her 10-day trip to Dublin and London than she has in a long time. She described how one evening she refused to take a taxi, despite being exhausted, to enjoy being out after dark. "At home it's become too dangerous to walk alone at night," she said. (Reporting by Paola Totaro, Editing by Emma Batha; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)