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Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists: "They persecute us like criminals"


According to the new report from Global Witness, Mexico totaled 54 murders of environmental defenders in 2021, which places it as the deadliest territory for activists. More than 40% of the people killed were indigenous, and more than a third were forced disappearances.

No one has to tell Rogelio Rosales Contreras about the dangers involved in defending the environment.

He has lived with threats and fear for years, when he decided to participate in the preservation of his indigenous territory in Ayotitlán, Jalisco.

"The Government owes a debt to the indigenous communities that have remained in that place for hundreds of years. We are a people who have our territory, our customs and traditions, but we have been invaded for a long time," he explains about the struggle that Ayotitlán, its Nahua–Otomí community, has filed a lawsuit against the activities of the Peña Colorada mine in the Sierra de Manantlán, an area located on the border of Jalisco and Colima.

In April 2021, indigenous leader José Santos Isaac Chávez was brutally murdered.

Isaac Chávez was a lawyer and at that time aspired to the Ayotitlán Ejidal Police Station (a local body that administers indigenous territories and coordinates actions with the communities), being the only candidate who openly opposed the Peña Colorado mine and its operations.

The leader was found dead in his car, which had been driven off a cliff.

But his body showed evidence of torture.

An activist is moved to tears by the "irreversible" damage caused by the Mayan Train

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Rosales Contreras's voice trembles when she remembers the death of Isaac Chávez, but her eyes cloud over when she explains that her own family has suffered the violence unleashed by the alleged links between organized crime groups and the mining company.

"In December 1993 they took my brother, and on October 26 of last year they murdered my son," he says with deep sorrow.

And he adds:

"It doesn't make us fair that for this environmental cause they persecute us as criminals.

We just want a more humane, more communal way of life, and they are killing us for that."

It is not fair to us that for this environmental cause they persecute us as criminals."

Rogelio Rosales, environmental activist

The case of Ayotitlán, and others from various regions of Latin America, are part of

A Decade of Defiance: Ten years of environmental activism worldwide


the most recent report by Global Witness, an environmental rights organization that warns about the increase in aggressions against activists.

This report concludes that the last decade has been deadly for environmental activists

with 1,733 murders recorded, a figure that is equivalent to one murder every two days


[Latin America is the deadliest region for environmental defenders: there were 165 murders in 2020]

Defenders are under attack and face violence, criminalization and harassment."

global witness

“Defenders are under attack and face violence, criminalization and harassment perpetuated by repressive governments and companies that prioritize profit over human and environmental harm. As democracies are under attack globally, and with the climate crisis worsening and of biodiversity, this report highlights the critical role of defenders in solving these problems and calls urgently for global efforts to protect them," the researchers warn.

Rogelio Rosales, activist and environmental defender in Jalisco, Mexico. Quetzalli Nicte Ha / Global Witness

The document indicates that more than half of the attacks registered during the last ten years have happened in countries such as Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines.

From the 2021 data, the organization denounces that

Mexico was the country with the highest recorded number of murders with a total of 54 deaths,

compared to 30 the previous year.

More than 40% of those killed were indigenous, and more than a third of the total were enforced disappearances, including at least eight members of the indigenous Yaqui community.

Latin America is the most dangerous region

In addition, the organization claims that more than three-quarters of the attacks recorded in 2021 happened in Latin America, making it the deadliest region for defenders.

While Mexico leads the world in the red, with activists killed every month, countries like Brazil and India also saw an increase in deadly attacks from 20 to 26 and 4 to 14 respectively.

On the other hand, both Colombia and the Philippines saw a drop in murders from 65 to 33 in 2021 and from 30 to 19, respectively.

Planet Earth: This is how they try to save the coveted and endangered sea cucumber in Mexico

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“These people understand, at the most fundamental level, how the fate of humanity is intertwined with the fate of the natural places they defend. That is why they are willing to risk everything to defend those places. And that is why

they, more than anyone, they deserve protection

", warns the academic Vandana Shiva, in one of the chapters of the report.

Global Witness experts say that in countries like Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, 78% of the attacks occurred in the Amazon.

Research has also found that indigenous communities face a disproportionate level of attacks, almost 40%, despite only representing 5% of the world's population.

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I am a victim of threats for resisting the exploitation of resources"

Higinio Trinidad Mexican defender

"Before we only saw the attacks in the news, in the statistics that come out in the media, but since we are involved in this fight for our indigenous communities, now we experience them firsthand. I am a victim of threats for resisting the exploitation of the resources we defend," says Higinio Trinidad de la Cruz, another activist from Ayotitlán, in an interview with Noticias Telemundo.

The report highlights that the control and use of land and territories is a central issue in countries where defenders are threatened.

A good part of the growing murders, violence and repression are related to territorial conflicts and the search for economic growth based on the extraction of natural resources.

["Our entire jungle is going to be degraded": environmentalists and indigenous leaders denounce the devastation of the Mayan Train]

In addition, experts warn that the murder data does not capture the true magnitude of the problem.

In many countries it is difficult to determine the status of activists due to restrictions on press freedom and lack of independent oversight, which often prevent detailed reporting.

"We are faced with a way of seeing nature as something that should not be cherished and protected, but rather conquered and subdued. This is a point of view originating in the Western industrial revolutions of the 19th century (...) almost all the defenders killed they are from the global south, but that region does not receive the supposed economic 'rewards' of all that violence," says Shiva.

Since 2012, Global Witness has collected data on the killings of land and environmental defenders.

One of the general conclusions of that research process is that all the evidence suggests that, as the climate crisis intensifies, violence against those who protect their ancestral territories remains a persistent problem.

Mexican indigenous denounce an archaeological looting for the construction of the Mayan Train

May 10, 202201:26

"They treat us like perpetrators"

Another worrying aspect of the report is that it claims that very few perpetrators of murder are brought to justice because governments do not adequately investigate these crimes.

According to experts, many authorities actively ignore or prevent investigations into these murders because collusion between corporate interests and state corruption is often detected.

In the Mexican case, the organization México Evalúa, an analysis center, affirms that

94.8% of the cases reported in the country remain unpunished

In addition, the black figure, that is, the crimes that are not reported, amounted to 93.3% and of the tiny percentage that is presented to the authorities, almost 95% remain unpunished.

"The Mexican State, through its institutions of access to justice, complicates the situation in Ayotitlán due to the obstacles it places on us to file legal remedies. It is truly inhumane because they treat us as perpetrators," says Adriana Sugey Cadenas Salmerón, a lawyer for the Tsikini organization, a civil association that legally represents several activists from Jalisco.  

Leydy Pech, the Mayan 'guardian' awarded for her fight for the environment

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Global Witness's findings come amid the escalation of violence in the country.

Mexico registered 33,315 homicides in 2021 after the two most violent years in its history, under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, with 34,690 murder victims in 2019 and 34,554 in 2020. 

In addition, organizations such as the Mexican Center for Environmental Law have denounced that during López Obrador's administration at least 58 environmentalists have died.

[The works of the Mayan Train threaten pre-Hispanic treasures: "It is the recipe for a catastrophe"]

However, for activists like Rosales Contreras, the defense of their ancestral territories has become an exercise marked by fear.

With bitterness she remembers that the deaths of her relatives, and that of Isaac Chávez, are part of a string of murders that has not stopped.

In 2012, some armed men took Celedonio Monroy Prudencio from his house and never saw him again, Aristeo Flores Rolón was assassinated in 2007 and Nazario Aldama Villa in 2004. The list, according to the defenders of Ayotitlán, continues to grow.

"I'm not going to stop fighting, but

what I demand of the government is justice so that what happened to my family never happens again.

The authorities have to find the culprits because we don't harm anyone, we just we want a bit of equality", concludes Rosales Contreras. 

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2022-09-29

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