The most recent report by the environmental organization Global Witness has validated what we have already seen throughout the year and in the past with murders such as that of the Mexican monarch butterfly conservationist, Homero Gomez: Latin America is a very dangerous place for environmental defenders. 

At the top of this blacklist that claimed the lives of 212 environmentalists during the year 2019 worldwide — 148 occurred in Latin America — we find Colombia, which has broken all the records of infamy with 64 social and environmental fighters killed by the mafias and paramilitaries still in the jungle, almost doubling the previous year. 

Colombia, a hellhole

“Organized crime and paramilitary groups — many of which have taken over areas previously controlled by the FARC — are responsible for a high percentage of the killings we document,” warned Global Witness, which is taking up recommendations from organizations such as the Somos Defensores Program and the Wayuu Women’s Force to pass them on to the government of Iván Duque.

Among them, to respect and promote agreements such as the Integral Rural Reform program, which allows the most disadvantaged rural communities to hold title to land and be economically integrated, as well as to extend state services to these remote places. 

Despite the fact that three years have passed since the peace agreement with the FARC, Duque’s government has had difficulty keeping crimes against social and environmental leaders at bay, and that also includes peasants and indigenous people who protect the forest and fight for their livelihood. 

The spread of mining, gas and agro-industry are the biggest triggers for attacks on nature and the people who protect it, according to the report, which cites the Philippines, with 43 murders, as the second most dangerous country for green activists.

Bolsonaro’s Brazil

In a country where denial about deforestation and an environmental apocalypse is common currency, starting with its own government, anyone who stands between the forest and those who decimate it is lost. 

Although the death count of activists has dropped from 57 to 24 from 2017 to 2019, coinciding with the lowest overall homicide rate, the Amazon rainforest concentrates the most of these crimes, which are largely carried out on indigenous leaders such as Paulinho Guajajara, who was killed last November and belonged to the Guardians of the Jungle in the state of Maranhao.  

“President Bolsonaro’s aggressive policies to encourage industrial-scale mining and agribusiness in the Amazon have had serious consequences for the indigenous population, as well as for the global climate,” the document stated. It highlighted not only the more than 70% increase in the destruction of indigenous lands, but also the role of and his government in criminalizing those who try to prevent an ecological catastrophe. 

Mexico: Lead or Lead

It ranks fourth among the most dangerous and difficult places for advocates of the natural environment with 18 such killings recorded last year and more than a third of the attacks targeting members of indigenous communities. 

One of these was Samir Flores, a community leader who was shot outside his home in the town of Almilcingo in February 2019 for his opposition to the construction of a thermoelectric plant in the state of Morelos and a 160 km gas pipeline. Curiously, almost two weeks before, President López Obrador announced a consultation in the 20 or so municipalities through which the gas pipeline was to pass. 

Although the Mexican president regretted the crime, arguing that Flores’ death was an attempt to hinder the consultation, a year later, there are still calls for the arrest of his assassins. 

Other countries on this blacklist are Honduras, with 14 murders of environmentalists, Guatemala with 12 and Venezuela with eight crimes.

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