Green & Bloody Red All Over, Colltalers
The murder of Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres, last week, barely registered on the U.S. media, busy as it is with the embarrassing freak show the presidential campaign has become. But it should, and not just for its relevance to our world.
Her assassination tops a staggering long list of ‘unsolved’ killings in Central and South America, where environment and human rights activism are deadly occupations. And highlights the intrinsic challenges in the global fight to control climate change.
For Caceres’ supporters, she was killed for leading the opposition to the internationally-backed Agua Zarca hydroelectric complex, four giant dams to be built in the Gualcarque river basin, with little concern about its potential environmental impact.
Co-founder of the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras, and last year’s recipient of the Goldman Environment Prize, she was one of most recognized faces of a growing movement in Honduras, and elsewhere in the region, demanding accountability for public projects that cause mass evictions of indigenous communities and native species, and hardly bring any local benefits.
Despite having reported threats against her life, the police called her death a result of robbery. Few doubt, however, that Caceres’ assassination, shot at home on the eve of her 43rd birthday, was designed to send a chilling message to those who share her activism.
A recent Global Witness report lists Honduras at the top
of places where most environmentalists per capita have been murdered in the last five years. But countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico, are not too far down on such grim list.
Increased agribusinesses, mining, logging, and hydropower projects, and almost no oversight from national governments, are forcing individuals and small communities to the forefront of the fight to defend natural resources, the study finds.
As a result, about 116 ‘land and environmental defenders,’ as the organization calls them, have been killed in 2014. In Brazil, 29, Colombia, 25, 12 in Honduras, and 9 in Peru, among other countries, totaled the list of mostly unpunished assassinations.
Again, Honduras is typical for its large indigenous demographics occupying prime land, and because the military elite that ousted democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya in a 2009 coup, has given priority to just such industries mentioned above.
The situation is not less tragic in Brazil, where the assassination of community environmentalists follows a well-known script: if caught, there’s a pro-forma trial of the usually contract-killer accused, a brief stint in a poorly-guarded local jail, and an escape. The hired gun is then either killed too, or disappears for a few years, until no one remembers anything anymore.
It’s a familiar template in the Amazon region, since Chico Mendes, the union leader and environmentalist, was gunned down in 1988. Over a quarter of a century later, neither his proven murderers nor those who paid them have been properly punished.
The killings of Raimundo Santos Rodrigues, last year, and Zé Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, in 2011, both shot dead with their equally activists wives, and that of Sister Dorothy Stang, the American-born nun, in 2005, have all something else in common, besides their collective rainforest activism: their killers, in large part, or those who hired them, are mostly walking around free today.
Global Witness names 448 Brazilians assassinated between 2002 and 2013, mostly for standing in the way of powerful interests in the region’s natural resources. But one would hardly notice that when checking what’s fueling the current political turmoil in Brazil. Even strong opponents of ruling Workers’ Party don’t even seem to care about its seemingly under-par green policies.
Rojas Gonzales, killed last December, Edwin Chota, and three other Asháninka leaders, murdered in 2014, are but the most well-known Peruvian environmental activists, who faced threats and then lethal bullets, to prevent the poisoning of rivers, power plant projects, palm oil crops in detriment of all others, illegal deforestation, and other billion-dollar ill-projects in the Amazon.
They’re part of yet another daily massacre throughout Latin America, aside the usual deadly crossfire of drug trafficking, racism, and scarcity: that of impoverished and unarmed citizens standing for what should be everyone’s concern: the defense of natural resources against greedy corporations and special interests, willing to suck dry nature, in order to cash in on its riches.
And their deaths, even when particularly predictable and cruel, such as Berta Caceres’, are mostly ignored by local police, and not reported by those that profit from the business of informing the world, and us, about what’s really going on.
Beyond the irreplaceable loss of the few who refuse to back down from a role that obviously transcends their immediate needs, their fate should worry everyone. After all, they’ve paid the ultimate price to protect resources that are keeping us all alive.
By now, there should be no question that climate change may end our civilization even before we reach critical mass in global hunger, super population, wars, and an ‘accidental’ nuclear holocaust. But even if we get to work on cutting down greenhouse gas emissions, cleaning the oceans, protecting water resources, we can’t afford losing selfless, courageous people like these.
They obviously have no choice: either face the powerful with sheer determination and wit, or become slaves, helping deplete the land they’ll never be able to own. But, more than so-called moral obligation, we have absolute no right to stand idle, while they continue to be massacred. Or rather, is it fair that they perish so we can keep eating our one-dollar burgers? Have a good one. WC