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Latin America, the most dangerous place for environmental activists

Latin America, the most dangerous place for environmental activists

Raimundo Rodrigues da Silva, a 42-year-old peasant committed to fighting for the rights of his lands, received a fatal shot from a shotgun last year in the Campestre area, 280 kilometers from São Luis, the capital of the State of Maranhão. northeast of Brazil. His name, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), had long been blacklisted due to his confrontation with the large estates that threaten his community and the powerful local landowner who embodies it.

This is just one of the 116 murders reported in the report by the NGO Global Witness and that warns about the violence suffered by environmental defenders. Last year ended with 21 more victims than in 2013 and Brazil continues to lead this world ranking of environmental violence that goes unpunished with 25% of deaths. It is followed by Colombia (25), the Philippines (15) and Honduras (12) in a list of 17 countries. Latin America registered 87 murders. Honduras, considered the most violent country in the world according to the UN, also maintains its position, for the fifth year in a row, as the place with bad murders of activists per capita.

Global Witness, which investigates cases of corruption and abuses in the exploitation of natural resources, calls the figures, which may be much higher in the absence of official data, as "dramatic" and notes "an alarming trend for some governments to use anti-terrorism legislation in against activists, describing them as enemies of the state ”.

In the case of Brazil, where the organization has counted 477 murders since 2002, most of the deaths are related to conflicts over the ownership, control and use of land, as well as illegal logging. Not surprisingly, with nearly 5,000 km2 of area devastated per year, the deforestation of the Amazon is one of the largest in the world.

The causes are repeated around the globe and the situation is complicated in small communities and indigenous peoples who battle for the property titles of their lands, a right that ends up confronting them with the interests of the so-called agribusiness, mining, the construction of hydroelectric dams. the industrial logging. 40% of the victims are indigenous.

Most activist deaths are filed without culprits, according to the report. Although not always: the supposed murderer of the peasant Rodrigues awaits trial in jail, an exception in a country where close to 90% of crimes are not solved. Diogo Cabral, a lawyer for the Pastoral Land Commission, maintains that the murders of more than 1,200 rural workers involved in environmental defense continue unpunished. "The Rodrigues case is one of the few in Brazil in which the murderer remains in prison," says Cabral.

Also in Brazil, in August 2013, the Spanish biologist Gonzalo Alonso Hernández, staunch defender of the Cunhambebe Park, in the State of Río de Enero, died. His executioners executed him in his own house and threw his body into a waterfall in the park that, for years, he defended against poachers and arsonists who sought to open spaces for livestock. "He never had bad enemies, other than those he denounced for their illegalities against nature," his wife, Maria Lourdes Pena, told EL PAÍS after the crime. Two years later, there are no culprits for the murder, according to Pena. “The Brazilian press did not give any importance to this case and it does not appear in the newspapers, nobody cares. But I am still hopeful, the perfect crime does not exist, "says the widow excitedly." Impunity is a phenomenon that is seen throughout Latin America, but especially in Brazil. The number of murders would drop if that impunity did not exist, "she laments Billy Kyte, author of the document.

The organization also denounces the lack of official and reliable information on all these murders, but risks targeting the perpetrators who are repeated in the most documented cases: paramilitary groups, police, private security guards and the military. They are the ones who pull the trigger, but generally those responsible for orchestrating these deaths are the large landowners, who manage to stay off the radar of the investigations.

While Global Witness denounces that companies and governments habitually promote agreements on large areas of land and forests to grow commercial products, such as rubber, Brazil is preparing to vote a law that will leave the demarcation of indigenous areas, attributed to the Executive and protected by the Constitution , in the hands of a Congress partly funded by the main stakeholders in exploiting those lands.

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