News Latin America Mexico becomes the deadliest country for environmentalists

Mexico becomes the deadliest country for environmentalists

In much of Mexico, defending the environment and doing it with a first and last name is a combination that can be fatal. The latest global figures have placed the country at the head of the homicides of environmentalists with a number that has not stopped climbing in the last three years. The new report from the international organization Global Witness, which carries out an annual count of these crimes, indicates that 54 people who defended their environment, natural resources or land were murdered in Mexico in 2021 alone, a substantive uptick compared to the 30 recorded last year. last year. According to the document, almost half of those who lost their lives last year were indigenous and more than a third are considered cases of forced disappearance.

The continent has been for years the most dangerous region for environmental activism: the organization documented the murder of 1,733 activists during the last decade and 68% took place in Latin America. Mexico had positioned itself on the list of the deadliest places, but until now it had always been below countries like Brazil or Colombia. However, the violence against activists last year brought the country to the worst place. “It has quickly become one of the most dangerous places for land and environmental defenders over the last ten years, with 154 cases documented during this period,” the report says. The majority, some 131 homicides, occurred between 2017 and 2021.

“Conflicts over land and mining were linked to two-thirds of the lethal attacks,” the report accuses, noting that some states have become a graveyard for activists. Sonora is one such place, primarily for members of the Yaqui community, a people known for their long struggle to defend their land and water. In June 2021, Yaqui leader Tomas Rojo, who had been missing for a little less than a month, was found dead in a grave. During those weeks, activist Luis Urbano was also shot dead when he was leaving an ATM, and Agustin The Rock Valdez, head of the community guard, also shot. In September of that same year, the authorities found at least five bodies of Yaquis who had disappeared in a grave.

The State of Oaxaca is another red light. In January 2021, indigenous land defender Fidel Heras Cruz was found dead in a community known as La Esperanza. Three other environmental defenders were killed between March 14 and 15. In April, the murder of environmentalist Jaime Jimenez Ruiz, known for defending the Rio Verde and opposing the construction of a dam on that site, occurred. By November, while world leaders were meeting at the climate summit in Glasgow, another environmental defender, Irma Galindo Barrios, disappeared in that state after denouncing illegal logging in her Mixtec community. Her name, along with four other fellow activists who disappeared with her, are now on the Global Witness list. “Since 2018, Irma had faced intimidation by public officials, as well as harassment, persecution, smear campaigns, and death threats for her defense of the forests,” the report states.

For the international organization, “indigenous territories are highly vulnerable to the prolific number of large-scale extractive projects promoted by national and foreign companies and backed by the Mexican government.” A problem that these crimes face in the country, adds the document, is impunity: more than 94% of crimes are not reported and only 0.9% are resolved.

One of the cases studied by the organization was the brutal murder of Jose Santos Isaac Chavez in April 2021. Isaac Chavez was an indigenous leader, lawyer, and candidate for president of the commissioner of the Ayotitlan ejido, in Jalisco, very close to the border with the State of Colima. The man was fervently opposed to the mining operations of the Pena Colorada company, made up of the multinationals ArcelorMittal and Ternium, which operates in a Manantlan mountain range, a reserve supposedly protected for its ecological diversity. “Mining operations have driven deforestation, wildlife loss, climate change and toxic pollution. However, it has been impossible to quantify the true scale of the damage, since the mining company maintains strict control over the Sierra de Manantlan area,” reports Global Witness.

The lifeless body of Isaac Chavez was found with signs of torture inside his car, thrown off a cliff. That homicide is not the first related to that mine in Jalisco. “Local reporters and activists denounce disappearances and murders related to the opposition to Pena Colorado for which no one has been brought to justice. The operations began in the 1970s and represent decades of serious violence and human rights abuses related to the mine,” the report says. The coordinator of the Tskini organization, Adriana Cadenas, linked other crimes to that mine, such as the disappearance of the activist Zeledonio Monroy, kidnapped in October 2012 by eight armed people, and the murder in October 2020 of Rogelio Rosales, son of one of the the main indigenous activists who opposed the project.

The organization admits that the difficult situation experienced by activists in that area, as in many others in Mexico, is compounded by the activity of organized crime, mainly drug cartels. In the Sierra de Manantlan, he explains, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel has entered the area to make a profit. “[La compania minera] It has colluded, it has called the services of organized crime as an armed wing to be able to intimidate, threaten the population that is against these mine operations, to threaten and intimidate them and to desist from this defense”, Cadenas explained. during the presentation of the report.

The Global Witness report, endorsed by a group of Mexican activist organizations, concludes with a recommendation for action by the Government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to prevent and avoid violence against environmentalists. “It must comply with its obligations to investigate, deliver justice and repair human rights violations against defenders of the land and the environment in Mexico,” advises the organization. In addition, it asks you to establish a map to apply the Escazu Agreement, a regional treaty to protect environmental activists that Mexico ratified in April 2021, but has not yet put into effect effectively.

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Source: EL PAIS

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