A long list of ecologists who paid with their lives for their defense of the environment.
Isidro Baldenegro, defender of the forests and indigenous Tarahumara leader, was assassinated last January in northern Mexico as was his father in 1986.
His fight on behalfof the Sierra Madre ecosystem made him the winner of the Goldman award, the most prestigious acknowledgement for the defence of the environment. For years, Baldenegro had been receiving death threats until, three months ago, he was shot six times while staying at the house of an uncle.
He was the second Goldman prize-winner to be killed. In March of last year, the ecologist Berta Cáceres was attacked and then killed. She had mobilized the people of Honduras against plans for the construction of the Agua Zarca dam. This enormous project, funded by international money, concerned the River Gualcarque, of vital importance to the Lenca people who greatly depend on it for food security and their cultural identity, the two pillars of their existence as an indigenous people. The wave of violence did not end with the death of Isidro.
Just two weeks after his murder, another indigenous Raramuri leader, Juan Ontiveros Ramos, 32, was found dead in the same region.
On 31 January last, his family had reported that armed men stopped him while travelling in his truck with his brother; they took him to an unknown destination. His mother stated she had heard four shots close to the place where her son was abducted. Less than twenty four hours later, his lifeless body was found at the side of the road.
Transformed into symbols of the struggle for the environment, Juan, Isidoro and Berta are just three names in a long list of ecologists who paid with their lives for their defence of the environment. In 2015, more than three persons per week were killed for defending their land, their forests and rivers from destructive industries. The report “A dangerous land” by Global Witness, documents the 185 known killings worldwide, a number that shows an annual average never before recorded that is more than double the number of journalists killed. The authors of the 200-page report state that the number is just an estimate and it is not improbable that there have been many other cases of violent death in remote areas or assassinations that were not well documented.
The main reasons for violence against environmental activists are to be found in the controversies about deforestation, mining and land rights. The victims of forty per cent of the assassinations of defenders of the environment worldwide are indigenous people, especially among the peoples of Latin America. These figures show that the most dangerous country in the world for defenders of the earth is Brazil with a total of 448 deaths in the last ten years; however, in proportion to the number of inhabitants, Honduras with 110 victims, is the most dangerous country for the defence of the resources of the earth. In third place is an Asian country, the Philippines, with a total of 67 victims. In Mexico, 33 ecological activists were killed between 2010 and 2015.
In Latin America, one of the great problems of the region is the profile of its exports. Many economies of the continent rely to a high degree in international trade in natural products such as petroleum, minerals, timber and agricultural products. These are easily produced but their added value is subject to large fluctuations on international markets, with the result that exports from the region often depend on international prices, something that does nothing to bring about economic stability but causes the development of an extraction industry without clear rules and inevitable repercussions for the environment. Violations, even of international agreements are becoming steadily more numerous, such as the Ilo Convention 169, which obliges the United States to engage in consultations beforehand where indigenous communities are concerned.
The area of extractive interests is continually growing in Latin America and at breakneck speed, especially as regards metals including copper, gold and iron. The continent of Latin America also has huge deposits of lithium, zinc and lead and also of various elements for base metals and metal finishing such as chrome, magnesium, nickel and molybdenum, essential components of the new technologies. «In the fight for the last resources of the planet, the strategy of Western industries is to grab as much as possible as soon as possible in that supermarket that Latin America resembles today » Isidro Baldenegro said during his last meeting with the indigenous people of his community. “In Columbian Amazonia and in Central America, until recently, people spoke of the dangers of drugs and drug trafficking. Now the dangers are the extraction of gold, the mines, resources and large capital”.
Attempts on the lives of the defenders of the environment and the earth and violations of environmental and human rights are the result of environmental deregulation in the context of the exploitation of natural resources. (S.L.)