World The deadliest place for environmental activists is Latin America

08:20  21 september  2021
08:20  21 september  2021 Source:   nbcnews.com

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Why is Latin America so deadly ? One reason is its abundant natural resources, which attract enterprises of all sorts, from multinationals to mafias. When prices are low, as they are now, the most rapacious do not go away; to maintain their profits they become more aggressive, says David Kaimowitz of the Ford Foundation, which gives money to good causes. New technologies open up new battlefronts. Soyabeans bred to grow in tropical conditions have encouraged farmers to displace cattle ranchers, who in turn have advanced into the rainforest. Small prospectors can now extract gold from

More land and environmental activists were killed in Latin America last year than anywhere else in the world, according to a new report by watchdog group Global Witness. All Rights Reserved. A total of some 207 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2017, according to Global Witness’s new report. Nearly 60% of those killings took place in Latin America , making it the deadliest year on record for this community. The report underscores how shifting organized crime dynamics put environmental defenders at greater risk.

MEXICO CITY — Diana Gabriela Aranguren could not believe what the news was saying. She looked at the TV screen over and over, trying to understand how it was possible that her friend had been killed.

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“He had just made a post on Facebook at 6 p.m. to participate in an activity and a bit later, the tragedy came on the news," Aranguren, a teacher and environmental activist, said about the death of Oscar Eyraud Adams, an Indigenous Mexican activist and leader who was killed on Sept. 24, 2020, in Tecate, Baja California.

Eyraud Adams fought for the water rights of the Indigenous Kumiai, who have been affected by the excessive use of the region’s aquifers by large beer and wine companies.

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In Latin America the indigenous communities are especially vulnerable, and it is there where most environmental activists are killed. CONFLICTING VISIONS. The clash between the different viewpoints on how to achieve development is more often than not resolved with violence. The activist agrees that indigenous populations are the most vulnerable. He also points out that many times the government does nothing to defend people or groups under attack; and that sometimes it even orchestrates disinformation campaigns. “When the state does not act like it has to act, it becomes an

The relentless environmental activist fought Desarollos Energéticos, SA (DESA) when they attempted to build a hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River. Many speculate her death is in direct connect to her stark opposition to DESA, a company that Cáceres said threatened her. Berta Cáceres’ death is one of the most visible examples of the high risk environmentalists face while defending their communities in Latin America . Global Witness‘ recent report, On Dangerous Ground, found that Latin America accounted for most of the murders of land defenders in any region in 2015.

His social media post, which were the last words he wrote, was a call for an event called “Looking for rain in the desert.”

A group of armed men entered his residence and shot him dead; the only thing they took was his cellphone and a notebook with his notes. At least 13 bullet casings, of different calibers, were found by authorities at the crime scene.

The case of Eyraud Adams, and many others, are chronicled in “Last Line of Defence: The industries causing the climate crisis and attacks against land and environmental defenders,” the latest report from Global Witness, an environmental rights organization which is calling out the increase in attacks against activists.

“You never think that defending our right to water and life will lead to death,” Aranguren said in an interview with Noticias Telemundo. “In Mexico, the people who defend their territory and natural resources are being killed, they make us disappear and they criminalize us.”

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The deadly risk of environmental activism in Latin America is not new. The region recorded more than half of all killings of environmentalists worldwide in 2018, and assassinations of prominent activists have occurred for decades. At the core of this tragedy is the plague of state weakness afflicting Latin American countries. Organized crime, militias, and predatory businesses operate with impunity, and the region’s governments have struggled to respond. Widespread corruption further endangers activists , as security forces and justice officials are susceptible to bribery and intimidation

In total, 87 of the killings took place in Latin America . Some governments have gone as far as to apply counter-terrorism laws against activists . It also found it “alarming” how some governments have applied counter-terrorism laws to prosecute activists , describing them as “enemies of the state.” “Killings represent the extreme end of a spectrum of risks faced by environmental and land defenders, including death threats and physical violence, criminalization and restrictions on freedoms,” the report stated.

In 2020, there were 227 deadly attacks, an increase in the historical figures since 2019, the deadliest year for environmental activists, with 212 murders.

The most chilling data is in Latin America, where 165 deaths took place — three-quarters of the attacks.

Almost 3 out of 4 attacks occurred in the region, which includes 7 of the 10 deadliest countries.

Colombia, with 65 deaths, and Mexico, with 30, lead the world ranking of murders of land and environmental defenders. Other countries with worrying figures are Brazil and Honduras, with 20 and 17 murders, respectively.

Killed 'for defending our planet'

At least 30 percent of the attacks are related to the exploitation of resources in activities such as logging, the construction of hydroelectric dams, mining projects and large-scale agribusiness.

“The people who are killed every year for defending their local populations were also defending the planet we share. In particular, our climate. Activities that flood our atmosphere with carbon, such as fossil fuel extraction and deforestation, are at the center of many of these murders,” environmentalist and author Bill McKibben wrote in Spanish in the report's foreword.

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Environmental activists don’t have an easy job; in fact Latin America is the deadliest place for environmentalists. According to a report by the NGO Global Witness, 185 environmental activists were murdered worldwide in 2015, with half the killings in Latin America . Environmentalists have been threatened, beaten or continue to be persecuted for speaking out against extraction projects. As you’ll see below, almost all of our top five environmentalists have at one point or another been a victim of threats or violence in an effort to silence them.

More environmentalists were murdered in Latin America in 2015 than anywhere else in the world, with anti-mining causes costing the most lives, a report by Global Witness shows. According to the UK-based organization, which campaigns against natural Impunity prevails for the perpetrators of violence while activists are increasingly criminalized or branded as “anti-development” by influential elites, the report said. The document calls on national governments, companies and investors and international organizations to take immediate steps to better protect environmental activists .

The logging and deforestation industry is linked to the highest number of murders in 2020, with 23 cases recorded in countries such as Brazil, Nicaragua, Peru and the Philippines.

Global Witness claims its data doesn't reflect “the true dimension of the problem” because restrictions on press freedom and coercive tactics such as death threats, illegal surveillance, intimidation, sexual violence and criminalization can contribute to an underreporting of assaults.

Colombia and Mexico lead in killings

According to the organization, since the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, an average of four environmental defenders have been killed each week.

For the second consecutive year, Colombia registered the highest number of activists killed, totaling 65 executions. The attacks occurred in “the context of generalized attacks against human rights defenders and community leaders," the report stated. "In many of the most remote areas, paramilitary and criminal groups increased their control through the exercise of violence.”

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Almost half of the country's homicides were against people engaged in small-scale agriculture and a third of the activists were Indigenous or Afro-Colombians.

a herd of zebra standing on top of a dirt field: The entrance to Kumiai territory in Juntas de Nejí, Baja California. (Felipe Luna / Global Witness) © Felipe Luna The entrance to Kumiai territory in Juntas de Nejí, Baja California. (Felipe Luna / Global Witness)

Countries used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to implement repressive methods against their populations —  “an opportunity to take drastic measures against civil society while companies advanced with destructive projects," the researchers state.

The closures and quarantines made it easier to locate activists, "and that is why many of the homicides were perpetrated in their homes or in their surroundings,” Lourdes Castro, coordinator of the Somos Defensores program, said in an interview with Mongabay Latam.

“Paradoxically, the violent people had the possibility to walk freely through the territories," Castro said.

Another worrying case is the situation for Mexican activists. Global Witness registered 30 lethal attacks in Mexico, which represents an increase of 67 percent compared to 2019 when 18 deaths were counted.

“Forest exploitation was linked to almost a third of these attacks and half of all attacks in the country were directed against Indigenous communities,” the researchers said. Moreover, most of them go unpunished, since 95 percent of murders in the country don't result in a legal case.

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Gabriela Carreón, human rights manager of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (Cemda), said 2020 was the most violent year for environmental activists during the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

As of July, Cemda has registered 14 murders against environmental activists. That same month, the Mexican Ministry of the Interior acknowledged that at least 68 human rights defenders and 43 journalists have been assassinated so far during López Obrador's tenure.

Fighting the hellish heat in Baja California

Heat kills in the Mexican state of Baja California. In 2019, at least eight heat-related deaths were recorded in Mexicali, the state's capital; in 2020 they were 83.

“In the last 70 years, the temperature in Mexico has a clear and conclusive increasing trend," Jorge Zavala Hidalgo, general coordinator of the National Meteorological Service, told Noticias Telemundo. "In the last decade it has increased very rapidly and that rise is even higher than the average for the planet."

The slain environmental activist, Eyraud Adams, had lived through the region's searing temperatures and lack of water.

In 2017, he had opposed the installation of the Constellation Brands brewery, which according to the company would use about 1.8 billion gallons a year for their production.

“Big companies have access to water much easier. This is not fair because we need water to survive,” Eyraud Adams had said, his comments quoted in the report. He promoted solutions to guarantee the preservation of water resources for the Kumiai and avoid the exodus of young people from the region.

“He helped us make what is happening in Baja California visible, but he paid for it with his life," said his friend Aranguren, who is part of Mexicali Resiste, an environmental rights organization.

"It is sad because these murders take away our children's future security," she said.

“We feel great fear because we have to keep fighting. There are still megaprojects in this area that take away our water," Aranguren said. "But if we don’t protest, no one will come to help us."

A version of this story was first published in Noticias Telemundo.

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