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Kevin ClarkeMarch 24, 2023
Several honduran women hold a large red sign calling for justice for Ana Lizeth HernándezProtesters stop traffic on Highway CA-5 north toward Tegucigalpa on March 23, 2023. (Photo by Kevin Clarke.)

Catholic Relief Services has been hosting a team of journalists this week in Honduras, a fellowship program intended to study the impact of climate change on this Central American state. But the U.S.- and Peruvian-based journalists got an unsubtle reminder on March 23 that drought and migration related to climate change are not the only major issues challenging Honduran society.

The delegation’s afternoon meetings with Honduran government environment and agriculture officials had to be canceled after the C.R.S. fellows were caught in the middle of a demonstration blocking the main highway north to Tegucigalpa near the village of Zambrano. The demonstration, well into its fifth hour when it finally broke up around 7 p.m. local time, had created a traffic jam perhaps 30 miles long on Highway CA-5, a major artery to the capital city. The protest was organized by women’s advocates and the family, friends and neighbors of Ana Lizeth Hernández, a 33-year-old woman who died of a gunshot wound to the head in her home on March 19. Protesters were demanding justice for Ms. Hernández, who they believe was a victim of femicide.

Domestic violence, femicide and criminal impunity have been persistent problems in Honduras. According to the United Nations, Honduras has the highest femicide rate in the Latin American region, with 6.2 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

The protest was organized by women’s advocates and the family, friends and neighbors of Ana Lizeth Hernández, a 33-year-old woman who died of a gunshot wound to the head in her home on March 19.

The investigation into the death of Ms. Hernandez has been complicated by a job action by staff at the Tegucigalpa morgue, which has prevented the scheduling of an autopsy. Demonstrators stopped traffic to demand that her body be removed to a different site where an autopsy could be conducted and that a thorough investigation of her death be promptly initiated. They also demanded the release of her body to her family for burial as soon as an autopsy is completed. Her body has been held in a morgue since her death was discovered on Sunday, March 19, Father’s Day in Honduras.

Shortly after the demonstration began, Anita’s father, Matías Hernández, collapsed on the roadway after making an emotional appeal for the release of his daughter’s body, explaining through tears that all he wanted, now five days after her death, was to give his daughter a proper burial. “I don’t even care who is to blame,” he shouted.

Protesters held signs around him that read, “Without justice, Anita cannot rest in peace.”

The domestic partner of Ms. Hernández, Allan Franco, an artillery major in the Honduran army, has been detained on firearm charges unrelated to her death after police searched the home the couple shared and discovered prohibited ammunition. Mr. Franco had been the person who notified authorities about the incident on March 19 and contacted Ms. Hernández’s family the next day to report her death, describing it as a suicide. But her family and protesters on CA-5 suspect otherwise, demanding “justice for Anita.”

Protesters held signs around him that read, “Without justice, Anita cannot rest in peace.”

Family members told Honduran media that they had seen many signs of domestic abuse in the couple’s 12-year relationship and denied that Ms. Hernández could have taken her own life. The protesters on the highway fear that her death and the possible role of her partner will not be properly investigated.

Ms. Hernández’s alleged treatment and murder at the hands of her partner is emblematic of the high degree of violence experienced by women in Honduran society. Researchers for U.N. Women said that women and girls in Honduras have “uniquely and disproportionately been affected by threats and acts of violence.” Increased poverty and unemployment in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and Hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2021 “left women and girls in Honduras at an even greater risk of multiple manifestations of violence, exploitation and human trafficking.”

Between January and November 2021, according to the United Nations, over 240 women lost their lives due to femicide in Honduras, the highest femicide rate in Latin America. Though some protesters feared that this “people’s demonstration” would be dispersed with tear gas, Honduran police kept their distance as the protest continued, even as hundreds of vehicles seeking to reach Tegucigalpa and parts south were kept at a standstill. The protest eventually retired peacefully.

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