Tuesday, September 14, 2021

LatAm deadliest region for environmental defenders (Sept. 14, 2021)

Murders of environment and land defenders hit a new record high last year, according to the latest figures released by Global Witness, which show that 227 people were killed in 2020 while trying to protect forests, rivers and other ecosystems that their livelihoods depended on. Indigenous communities, which make up only about 5% of the world's population, bore the brunt of the anti-activist violence, accounting for more than a third of those killed, according to Global Witness' annual report.

As in previous years, South and Central America – home to the world’s richest biodiversity and intact forest – was the deadliest region: Colombia topped the list with 65 deaths, followed by Mexico, where 30 defenders lost their lives. In Colombia, where defenders confront armed groups financed by environmentally destructive illicit economies, a third of the attacks "targeted indigenous and afro-descendant people, and almost half were against small-scale farmers." And in Mexico lethal attacks last year increased 67 percent from 2019.

On a per capita basis, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, Guatemala and the Philippines were the most dangerous places to be a grassroots environmental activist, according to the report. Central America is one of the regions most affected by the extremes of the climate crisis, and as the climate shifts, conflict over natural resources is worsening. “This dataset is another stark reminder that fighting the climate crisis carries an unbearably heavy burden for some, who risk their lives to save the forests, rivers and biospheres that are essential to counteract unsustainable global warming,” Global Witness Senior Campaigner Chris Madden said.

In Nicaragua, the 2020 killings included an attack on an Indigenous community located within the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve by some 80 heavily armed men who burned homes, killed cattle and murdered four people in an apparent attempt to expel the Indigenous people from their ancestral lands in order to exploit the natural resources. 

Twenty land defenders were killed in Brazil, where the death toll has fallen slightly in recent years. Instead, the attacks against defenders there have become political: “In recent years in Brazil, we have seen policies for aggressive expansion,”co-author Rachel Cox said. “They are using legal mechanisms. It’s a different kind of attack – criminalisation and the undermining of political rights of defenders.”

News Briefs

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro must be held accountable for Brazilian democracy to be healthy again, Open Society Foundation's director for Latin America and the Caribbean told Folha de S. Paulo. (Around World Journal in English) In the wake of last week's Sept. 7 marches, Brazil "will have to live with a significant portion of the population that rejects the democratic pact. And we are going to spend a lot of the country’s energy to protect democracy when it should be being used to reduce inequalities, reduce poverty and generate better quality public services." (See last Wednesday's post and last Thursday's.)
El Salvador
  • The judge investigating the 1981 El Mozote massacre has been fired by El Salvador’s government, part of President Nayib Bukele's onslaught against the judiciary. For victims, survivors and their families, that means justice could never come, write Raymond Bonner and Nelson Rauda at ProPublica. (Last week the New Yorker argued that the attacks on the judiciary are partially motivated by the uncomfortable truths the trial has shown about El Salvador's current dysfunction, see Friday's briefs.)
  • A month after Haiti’s devastating disaster, communities along its southern peninsula are still struggling to find aid and shelter, reports the Miami Herald. Homes have been destroyed, schools and hospitals turned to rubble and hundreds of people remain missing along with the more than 2,200 confirmed dead.

  • Haiti’s Office of Citizen Protection posted a video yesterday demanding that Prime Minister Ariel Henry step down as authorities seek to interview him about telephone calls he allegedly had with a key suspect in the president’s assassination, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.)
  • After years of crisis and acrimony in Bolivia, Luis Arce’s government has disappointed those hoping for a fresh start, writes Richard Lapper in Americas Quarterly. Instead, "Bolivia has become bogged down in bitter political wrangling and economic dysfunction. Rather than seek consensus, Arce has looked for confrontation."

  • The change is part of a broader shift. Like their counterparts in Brazil or Venezuela, many on Bolivia’s left see recent events as part of a broader narrative in which progressive governments are now recovering from “imperialist intervention,” writes Lapper. "From this perspective, the importance of settling scores with anyone who supported the transitional government overrides all else."
  • Police-related killings are a clear and present danger in the Americas, write Katherine Aguirre and Robert Muggah in Small Wars Journal. Countries like Brazil, Mexico, the US and Venezuela feature some of the highest levels of lethal state violence in the world. Yet due to the lack of standardized data and the low priority accorded to the issue, unpacking the causes and consequences for this affliction is surprisingly tricky.
  • A suspected Shining Path guerrilla was killed in clashes with soldiers and police in a remote coca leaf growing region of Peru’s high jungle, according to the country’s military. (AFP)
  • Coronavirus school-shutdowns in Venezuela -- ongoing -- are among the longest in the world, and there is no end in sight, reports the Washington Post.

  • Venezuela’s government is allowing private firms to run at least 13 food companies that were nationalized a decade ago. The effort meant to improve operations that suffered under state management, according to Reuters.
Dominican Republic
  • The dismantling of a drug trafficking and money laundering network implicating government officials in the Dominican Republic has presented a serious challenge to President Luis Abinader’s anti-corruption drive, reports InSight Crime.
  • Cuban children, as young as 2-years-old, are being immunized with Soberana 2 and Soberana Plus, two domestically developed vaccines. Cuban officials said clinical trials have shown that the combination is more than 90 percent effective at protecting against the coronavirus, though data from the trials have not yet been published in peer-reviewed international journals. U.S. economic sanctions imposed during the Trump administration  have slowed vaccination efforts by making it more complicated and expensive to import materials. (New York Times)

  • A new report by 20 prominent Cuban scientists criticized allegations that U.S. and Canadian diplomats were subject to mysterious attacks while posted on the island and developed health issues, the so-called "Havana Syndrome." They questioned whether the variety of reported symptoms could even be referred to as a single syndrome and said that some of the proposed explanations violated basic laws of physics, reports the Associated Press. (New Yorker piece on Havana Syndrome from earlier this year.)
  • A high-profile US trial of a cross-border wildlife trafficker gave a glimpse  into the inner workings of the wildlife trade between Mexico and the United States, reports the Washington Post.
  • The Argentine government’s election loss on Sunday (see yesterday's briefs) weakens Economy Minister Martin Guzmán’s negotiating power with the International Monetary Fund over its record $45 billion debt, reports Bloomberg.

  • Economist Javier Milei was an eccentric fringe political figure in Argentina, but on Sunday he leveraged his standing among young libertarians to garner a surprising 13 percent in Buenos Aires city's open primary for national lawmakers. He might gain a seat in Congress in November, and has come to represent Argentina's right-wing anti-system vote. (DiarioAr)
  • The Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) established a “station” in Santiago in 1971, at the behest of the CIA, and conducted clandestine spy operations to directly support U.S. intervention in Chile, according to declassified Australian records made public for the first time by the National Security Archive last week. (See yesterday's briefs.)

  • Change is in the air in Chile, with presidential and congressional campaigns heating up just as a constitutional convention gets to work rethinking the country’s political system. Adolfo Ibáñez University’s Isabel Aninat at Americas Quarterly's podcast.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 


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