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The murder of environmentalists grows in conflicts over overexploitation

The murder of environmentalists grows in conflicts over overexploitation

Increasingly, local communities opposing overexploitation projects “find themselves in the crosshairs of corporate private security, state forces and a burgeoning market for hit men,” says Billy Kyte, spokesperson for Global Witness, calling for governments to intervene to stop this spiral of violence. Many murders occurred in remote villages or in the heart of the jungles, so the actual number of fatalities may be higher.

In 2015, an unprecedented level of violence was observed in Brazil, where cattle ranches, agricultural plantations and gangs of illegal loggers invade local communities. The collusion or lack of involvement of governments or authorities means that many of these murders are not investigated, says Global Witness. The few convictions that have occurred tend to fall on the gunman who carries out the contract killings, but not on those who commissioned the repression of the activists. "The responsibility for these deaths falls mainly on governments, which become accomplices by preserving the interests of local capital and transnational companies, and large corporations, which want to take over the territories and common goods," says Serlinda Vigara , from Ecologists in Action.

Stigmatization campaigns are sometimes added to impunity, as governments and powerful interests try to put opinion against these people by presenting them as contrary to development. Conflicts reflect overexploitation and depletion of resources. To get less than a gram of gold, you have to move a ton of land and that already sets in motion machinery and exploitation technologies that are sometimes devastating, says economist Joan Martínez Alier. The planet is increasingly being poked, but not just to get oil.

GLORIA CAPTAIN. Coal sparks discord in the Philippines
Led the Coal Free Bataan Movement (Philippines)

Gloria Capitán, 57, led the Coal Free Bataan Movement, an organization that peacefully opposes the expansion of coal plants and open-pit storage facilities for this mineral in the town of Mariveles (16 kilometers from Manila, Philippines), which are having detrimental consequences for the health of the local population.

She was assassinated on July 1, 2016. "If Gloria's murder aims to silence other anti-coal activists like her, then they are wrong," said Valentino De Guzmán, an activist with the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice. Gloria Capitán led numerous protest actions (complaints, collection of signatures, complaints, public actions) against the pollution caused by coal. Mariveles houses two storage facilities and a thermal plant, but the construction of three new thermal plants is also planned in this area.

His organization denounces that the storage of coal and the dust caused in its transport is the main responsible for the pollution suffered by the population and that causes skin allergies and serious respiratory infections. All of this occurs in a coastal belt where most of the mangrove forests have been lost and numerous oil spills have occurred (Limay port). Captain's colleagues fear that the police will not take the murder investigation seriously.

"Most of the coal projects in the country are owned by big companies, influential people who have connections in the government," says Reuben Muni of Greenpeace. "He had no personal enemies, it is clear what was the reason for his death," said Gerry Arances, coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice.

The Global Atlas of Environmental Justice created by a team of experts from ICTA-UAB (Joan Martínez Alier, Daniela del Bene, Federico Demaria…) has documented this conflict among the most representative in Asia. On April 9, 2016, nine people were killed and hundreds more injured while protesting in Bangladesh against the construction of a 1,320 MW coal plant.

ISIDRO BALDENEGRO. The indigenous who wanted to save Sierra Madre
Tarahumara farmer, fought logging in Chihuahua (Mexico)

He knew they were after him; He tried to evade his pursuers, but failed. Mexican indigenous leader Isidro Baldenegro was shot dead on January 15 when he was attacked at his uncle's home by a 25-year-old man. Baldenegro, leader of the Tarahumara, an ethnic group from the northern state of Chihuahua, is the second person to be assassinated with the prestigious Goldman environmental award in two years.

Baldenegro had fled the community of Coloradas de la Virgen after receiving threats. At 51, he was leading a campaign against illegal logging in the Sierra Madre mountains, home to some of the last virgin forests in northern Mexico. "I am shocked by the cold-blooded murder of Isidro, who only wanted for his community the preservation of traditional forests in the Sierra Tarahumara," said Michel Forst, United Nations Special Rapporteur. The UNHCR Office noted that three other activists against illegal logging in Coloradas de la Virgen were killed last year.

Isidro Baldenegro's father, Julio, also an anti-logging activist, was murdered in 1986, in a crime that remains to be clarified. Isidro was 20 years old when his father was killed, and almost immediately took the post he left.

"This murder alerts us to the situation of extreme vulnerability experienced by human rights defenders who in the Sierra Tarahumara seek to preserve land and territory in remote areas with a high presence of organized crime," said Jan Jarab, representative in Mexico from Alto Commissioner for Human Rights.

Baldenegro was jailed in 2003 for alleged illegal possession of weapons and marijuana, but the charges were dropped a year later after it was proven that the police had committed abuses in his detention. Then, Baldenegro accused influential loggers and local ranchers of persuading the police to fabricate charges against him. In an interview from prison in 2003, he warned that if any of them died for any reason, there would always be others who would continue the fight. Chihuahua state prosecutors say they have identified the killer and are searching for him.

BERTA CÁCERES. "My mother faced all injustices"
The Lenca community and the great dams (Honduras)

“My mom was a social fighter: anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal and anti-racist,” Laura Zuñiga, one of the daughters of Berta Cáceres, the indigenous leader, recalled in 2015 with the Goldman environmental prize for her defense of peasant movements , and that she was murdered by a hit man last March at her home in La Esperanza (Honduras). Laura Zuñiga explains that she likes to remember her mother not only because of her connection to the environmental cause, but also as someone who stood up to “any injustice”. "It was the most beautiful thing about her," Zuñiga remarks. “He was very strong and very brave. Loving from strength. And we always remember it that way ”, he concludes.

Cáceres's family related the homicide to their participation in social movements, and specifically to their involvement in the protests against the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the Gualcarque, a sacred river for the Lenca people, to which Cáceres belonged. The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh) is the organization that supports these protests. It was led by Berta Cáceres and has been defending its territory against the threats of hydroelectric projects, which, according to Copinh, cause displacement of people and prevent the community from developing its agricultural activities.

The Honduran company Desa has been under strong pressure on Copinh for years, the company awarded the works on the Gualcarque river. Cáceres received 33 death threats before she was killed. In addition, two other members of his organization have died in 2016 while the current leader, Tomás Gómez, is also being threatened after having survived a shooting. When assessing the arrest of six people for the murder, her daughter fears that they are only the "material murderers" and that "intellectual authors", those who ordered her to be killed, continue with impunity.

“You not only have to persecute whoever shoots, but whoever orders or plans it because these people are still free and may have other victims in mind. Doing justice is that things are not repeated, ”insists Zuñiga.

LAURA VÁSQUEZ. A young grandmother who was the victim of defamation
He led the opposition to the gold mine (Guatemala)

Last Monday, January 16, the Guatemalan ecologist Laura Leonor Vásquez Pineda passed away, victim of a shot in the head in the department of Jalapa. Unidentified individuals broke into her home and murdered her. Laura Leonor Vásquez, 47, was in charge of two minor grandchildren and ran a small business of her own.

Vásquez was one of the leaders of the Local Committee in Defense of the Life of San Rafael Las Flores, which opposed the El Escobal mine (in the San Rafael municipality), a gold and silver deposit of the Canadian mining company Tahoe Resources. The mining authorization (granted on April 1 3, 2013) caused a strong social conflict, as it occurred without hearing the allegations of the population, mostly opposed to the project.

One of the main concerns of his detractors was the possible contamination of the Ayarza Lagoon, a large volcanic lake, located 2.5 kilometers from the Escobal project and at a lower quota. There is only about 200 meters of distance between the aquifers of San Rafael Las Flores and a wall of the lagoon.

The risk of acidic products leaking into the subsoil derived from mining activity or the danger of a cyanide spill or a breach in the tail dam - unfortunately quite common events in these facilities - are some of the dangers invoked by these peasant communities, dependent on the underground water reserves and the Ayarza Lagoon.

On May 2, 2013, a government decree decreed the state of siege in several municipalities in the area (departments of Jalapa and Santa Rosa). It was the reaction to the protests that had developed after six protesters were wounded by gunshots at the hands of the private security of the San Rafael Mine.

In the context of the state of siege, Laura Leonor Vásquez was arrested, as well as four other human rights defenders. She was detained for around seven months, without being shown any of the crimes charged. After leaving prison, he was the target of an atrocious smear campaign, his relatives recall.

LUIZ ALBERTO ARAÚJO. The man who fought deforestation despite fear
Official of Altamira (Pará Brazil)

It all happened shortly after sunset in Altamira, a small town located on the bend of the Singu River, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Luiz Alberto Araújo, environment secretary of the City Council (54 years old), was coming home with his family. Before he got out of the car, two men on a motorcycle stopped and fired seven bullets at him. Araújo collapsed onto his wife, who was sitting next to him. The event, registered on October 13 of last year, was the typical murder that is often repeated in the lawless state of Pará, in the eastern Amazon.

More than 150 environmental activists have been murdered since 2012 in Brazil, a country where half of these types of murders are recorded Many of the victims counted so far, including Chico Mendes, Dorothy Stang or Zé Claudio Ribeiro da Silva, were militants environmentalists. But Araújo was an official. Therefore, his death is a qualitative leap. Someone seeks to consolidate impunity.?Araújo was in charge of controlling deforestation and the impacts of the large Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, built near Altamira.

Araújo used to report irregularities to the state prosecutor's office the irregularities he detected. He had become used to receiving death threats. “Without a doubt I was afraid. He never said anything, but everyone who works to defend the environment in the villages of the Amazon is a little scared, "said Marcelo Salazar, from the Socio-environmental Institute in Altamira, who worked with him.

Araújo department had granted a license to open a gold mine (Esperança IV) in Altamira. However, after his complaint, the inspectors closed it and imposed a fine (14 million euros) for breaching the restrictions imposed to deforest the area of ​​the mine. In addition, mercury spills and other pollutants poisoned the Curuá river and reached the food chain of the Kayapó indigenous tribe. Araújo also denounced the owners of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant (Norte Energía) for the massive death of fish detected when the reservoir was filled. The company was fined 10 million euros for the death of 16.2 tons of fish. His professional task made him too many enemies ...

The vanguard


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