Nelson Arambú died in a hospital in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, two weeks after he was admitted. Sources told the Washington Blade the advocate’s brain began to swell in the days before he passed away.
Former Honduran diplomat Sergio Moncada works with Hondurans for Democracy and Colectivo LIBRE, two organizations that formed after the 2009 coup that toppled then-President Manuel Zelaya.
The groups invited Arambú to the U.S. last summer where he met with staffers of the Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights First, representatives of the State Department and members of the Congressional Equality Caucus.
“As of two days ago, other colleagues and I had been told that his improvement was very slow and that his state was very delicate,” Moncada told the Washington Blade on Wednesday. “None of us expected him to die. It’s been crushing.”
Arambú, 29, was a member of the Diversity Movement in Resistance at the time of his death.
The advocate — who conducted research on health and violence in Honduras for Doctors Without Boarders — co-founded the Violet Collective and Kulkulcán Associations in 1999 and 2003 respectively. He was also a member of the National Resistance Front, a coalition of organizations and political parties that formed in response to Zelaya’s ouster in 2009.
Arambú told the Blade last June during an interview in New York that anti-LGBT violence in his impoverished Central American country has skyrocketed since the 2009 coup.
He noted that more than 170 LGBT Hondurans have been reported killed between June 2009 and last May. These include Walter Tróchez, a prominent LGBT rights advocate who was shot to death on a Tegucigalpa street in December 2009.
“We are fighting to stay alive; not to be killed,” Arambú told the Blade.
Arambú said a group of men nearly kidnapped him last September as he walked home from a march during which he and other human rights advocates protested the Honduran government’s response to violence, poverty and other issues.
His Tegucigalpa home was broken into three times last December.
Arambú told the Blade after the kidnapping attempt that he did “not feel very safe” in the country. He nevertheless said he did not want to leave Honduras.
“If I were to face a similar situation again, I think that I would have to think about what I should do,” Arambú told the Blade. “But I am not interested in leaving Honduras.”
One of Honduras’ largest teachers unions hosted Arambú’s wake that took place hours after his death.
Arambú was buried on Wednesday afternoon.
“[His death is] a devastating loss for Honduras’ LGBT community, particularly young LGBTs in their teens and 20s,” Moncada told the Blade. “They’d been inspired by Nelson – by his drive, charisma, idealism and sense of justice. It’s been devastating to me. Over a few months he and I developed a wonderful rapport about politics, pop culture, gender and ethics.”
The Liberty and Refoundation Party, a left-leaning Honduran political party known by the acronym LIBRE that means “free” in Spanish that the National Resistance Front formed in 2011, on Wednesday publicly mourned Arambú’s death.
“Nelson Arambú’s passing brings deep sorrow to his family and his friends, to our party and cause,” wrote Zelaya in a proclamation his party posted onto its Twitter page.
LGBT advocacy groups in neighboring Guatemala and in Costa Rica also mourned Arambú’s death.