September 13, 2021 by archyde
The UTT released a poster to demand justice for Juan Carlos “Cheta” González (Felipe Luna / Global Witness)
Protesting for clean air, fighting against large corporations to protect one’s own environment and that of a community or military in an environmental movement that opposes some infrastructure work can cost life. And if you live in Latin America, the risk is even higher. The annual report of Global Witness published today reveals that three-quarters of the lethal attacks recorded against environmental activists in 2020 occurred in the region: 165 people were killed for defending their land and planet. Globally, there were 227 lethal attacks, up from all-time records for the second year in a row.
Colombia was, once again, the most affected country in the world, with 65 registered murders, and Nicaragua, with 12 deaths, was the deadliest place for defenders considering the per capita murders. On average, four defenders have been killed each week around the world since the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2015. However, this shocking figure is almost certainly an underestimate, as many cases are not likely to are denounced in the face of increasing restrictions on journalism and other civic freedoms.
In 2020 Argentina was part of this sad list: the tucuman producer Juan Carlos “Cheta” González he was shot by retired police officer Carlos Flores, in the context of a territorial conflict.
“On Tuesday, September 15, 2020 González took, like every morning, his animals to the field where he was born and raised. From the shotgun of retired police officer Carlos Flores came the three bullets that ended his life. The shooter said it was in self-defense, but ‘Don Cheta’ (as he was known) was unarmed and was shot in the back while riding his horse. Everything happened in El Cevilar, El Bracho commune, Cruz Alta department (Tucumán): on the same lands that once belonged to Juan José González and that his legitimate heirs cultivated their entire lives, ”says the news agency Alive earth. Cheta lived with Lidia, his wife, and Luis, one of their three children. It integrated the Union of Land Workers (UTT).
Two months and 18 days later, Flores was sentenced to eleven years in prison in an abbreviated trial. The crime was classified as aggravated homicide by the use of a firearm. Judge Javier Tomas resolved the house arrest at the home of a relative of the convicted person, in Horco Molle, a distant town about 40 kilometers from where the events occurred. He also ordered that the murderer carry an electronic device to be located. The victim’s family assures that they do not comply with the provisions of justice.
The figures from the international report show the human cost of the destruction caused by extractive industries and corporations. According to reports, at least 30% of the reported attacks were directly related to the exploitation of resources, including logging, mining and large-scale agribusiness, hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure. Logging was the industry linked to the highest number of murders with 23 cases, with attacks reported in Mexico, Brazil, Nicaragua and Peru.
The killings include the case of Óscar Eyraud Adams, a Kumiai indigenous and water defender, killed in Mexico after opposing industries that contribute to water shortages in Baja California. Óscar was one of the many indigenous people killed in 2020, claiming their right to self-determination and protecting the ancestral lands of those who seek to exploit their natural resources.
Oscar Eyraud’s grave in Juntas de Nejí (Felipe Luna / Global Witness)
“In a year in which Latin American countries suffered unprecedented crises, one constant remained: violence against defenders. Latin America has consistently been the worst affected region, and all too often those who speak out for their land and our planet face criminalization by governments, intimidation in their communities, and murder. This systemic violence is the result of decades of impunity for the perpetrators and the companies that put extraction and profits above human life and our environment, ”he said. Marina Commandulli, from Global Witness.
Activists who continue to be threatened include the communities of Guapinol, in Honduras. There, dozens of land and water defenders have been arrested in recent years for peacefully protesting against an iron oxide mining concession granted by the central government in a protected area. Many members of the community remain deprived of their liberty.
Main findings of the report
– Almost three out of every four recorded attacks occurred in the Americas. Of the ten countries with the highest number of recorded attacks, seven are in Latin America. In Brazil and Peru, almost three-quarters of the recorded attacks occurred in the Amazon region of those countries.
– Colombia is once again the country with the highest number of recorded attacks, with 65 defenders killed in 2020. A third of these attacks were committed
– In 2020 the disproportionate number of attacks against indigenous peoples continued, being the target of more than a third of these fatal attacks. Attacks against indigenous defenders were reported throughout Latin America.
– Nicaragua had 12 murders, compared to the five that Global Witness documented in 2019. Considering murders per capita, it became the most dangerous country for land and environmental defenders in 2020.
– The number of reported attacks in Brazil remains high, with 20 murders recorded. The Bolsonaro government has prioritized extractive industries in the Amazon and Cerrado regions. Indigenous rights organizations and at least six of Brazil’s political parties have alleged that COVID-19 could lead to “genocide” of Brazil’s indigenous peoples.
– Where reports indicate that defenders were targeted for protecting certain ecosystems, the majority (70%) worked to defend forests from deforestation and industrial development, vital in efforts to curb the climate crisis. Others died for their work protecting rivers, coastal areas and oceans.
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