La Prensa, a Honduran newspaper, reported Rene Martínez’s family reported him missing on Wednesday after he left his home in the city of San Pedro Sula’s Chamelecón neighborhood and got into someone’s car.
La Prensa reported that Martínez’s relatives identified his body at San Pedro Sula’s morgue on Friday. The newspaper said it appears that Martínez was strangled to death.
Martínez was ‘brilliant LGBT political leader’
Martínez, 40, was president of Comunidad Gay Sampredrana, a San Pedro Sula-based LGBT advocacy group that worked throughout northern Honduras. He also ran an outreach center in Chamelecón through Youth Alliance Honduras, an organization that is part of an anti-violence program the U.S. Agency for International Development helped to develop.
USAID and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute co-sponsored a conference in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa last October that focused on bolstering LGBT political engagement in Latin America and the Caribbean. Martínez was among the more than 300 activists from across the region who attended the gathering in which Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry and Tamara Adrián, the first openly transgender person elected to the Venezuelan National Assembly, participated.
La Prensa reported that Martínez was a “well-known” member of the country’s governing National Party.
Investigators have yet to identify a possible motive for Martínez’s murder or potential suspects.
Erick Vidal Martínez, a Honduran LGBT rights activist, told the Washington Blade on Friday during a telephone interview from a Tegucigalpa suburb that Martínez’s death is “regrettable.” Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute International Programs Director Luis Abolafia Anguita also mourned Martínez.
“Rene was a brilliant LGBT political leader in Honduras and a promising future political candidate,” Abolafia told the Blade in a statement.
Francis Rodríguez, a spokesperson for San Pedro Sula Mayor Armando Calidonio, described Martínez as Chamelecón’s “friend.”
“Reny was a man who gave back to the community,” Rodríguez told La Prensa.
The U.S. Embassy in Honduras on Friday condemned “in the strongest terms the apparent murder of Rene Martínez.”
“A leader in the LGBTI community in San Pedro Sula and a rising political figure in Honduras, his death comes as a great shock,” said the Embassy in a statement. “We offer our condolences to his friends and family, and expect a full and thorough investigation into the circumstances of his death. The United States has already offered our assistance to Honduran authorities working to bring justice in this case.”
Anti-LGBT violence, discrimination rampant in Honduras
San Pedro Sula, which is Honduras’ second largest city, is located roughly 150 miles northwest of Tegucigalpa.
The city has become known as “the murder capital of the world” because of rampant gang violence and drug trafficking. La Prensa reported that Chamelecón, which is a working class neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, has a high crime rate.
Anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain commonplace in the Central American country.
Walter Tróchez, a prominent LGBT rights activist, was killed in Tegucigalpa in 2009. Paola Barraza, a trans woman who championed human rights, was shot to death in January outside her home in the city of Comayagüela.
Ever Guillén of the Kukulkán Association, a Honduran advocacy group, said during a Tegucigalpa conference organized by local activists last fall that more than 150 LGBT people have been killed in the Central American country in recent years “in a systematic violation of human rights.” U.S. Ambassador to Honduras James Nealon acknowledged to the Blade during an October 2015 interview that violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are indicative of the “very serious challenges” facing the Central American country.
“We are honored to have been able to assist him in his political endeavors, and mourn such a great loss to the LGBT movement in the region,” Abolafia told the Blade on Friday, referring to Martínez. “Although his loss is devastating, it is a reminder to keep working and empowering LGBT leaders who will stand up to violence and hate.”