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Environmental Activists Are Being Murdered in Record Numbers

As the climate crisis intensifies, hundreds of land defenders around the world are being murdered by corporations, land owners, and the states that defend them.

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Photo: Mauro PIMENTEL / AFP

A record-setting number of environmentalists and land defenders were killed worldwide in 2020, according to the environmental rights organization Global Witness. Colombia has the highest number of these murders for the second consecutive year.

Colombia had 65 murders of environmentalists, followed by Mexico with 30, the Philippines with 29, Brazil with 20, Honduras with 17, the Democratic Republic of Congo with 15, Guatemala with 13, Nicaragua with 12, Peru with six, and India with four.

All these countries, many in Latin America and all in the Global South, experience the struggles of large multinationals that own the land and hire local thugs to harass activists. Sometimes it’s local large landowners, often descendants of local slave owners that do the harassment and murder. 

Environmental defenders are fighting so much: forest fires, droughts, floods, big business, hydropower, resource exploitation, mining, large-scale agribusiness, and more. For these and other local reasons, activists were murdered to defend the interests of large companies and agribusiness. According to the Global Witness report, “At least 30 percent of recorded attacks were reportedly linked to resource exploitation — across logging, hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure, mining, and large-scale agribusiness. Logging was the industry linked to the most murders with 23 cases — with attacks in Brazil, Nicaragua, Peru and the Philippines.”

And these are just the numbers on record — there have likely been many more attacks that have gone unrecorded, in part due to the attacks on journalists and independent press who try to expose the attacks.

According to Mongabay Latam, which published a journalistic investigation, Latin America is one of the world’s regions with the highest number of murders.

They highlight a high degree of collusion between business and the capitalist state in criminalizing activists who oppose certain extractive projects, especially in mining and agribusiness. Many of these activists and communities experience attempts to silence them through death threats, surveillance, sexual violence, or arrest.

According to Global Witness, at least four environmental defenders have been killed every week since the signing by major powers in 2015 of the Paris Agreement on climate change. It is clear that the agreement didn’t make a difference in the policies of big business, but it did make for flowery government declarations.

In fact, several countries used the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 to increase repressive measures using the health situation as an opportunity to clamp down on activists while corporations moved forward with climate destruction.

Large companies involved in extractive industries have prioritized profits over human rights and nature, making clear the motive behind the killings.

Under the government of Iván Duque, Colombia, in particular, has reached maximum levels of violence, positioning the country as the most dangerous for the defense of nature and territory. In 2020 alone, 65 murders of social leaders occurred, along with the wave of criminalization against indigenous communities that oppose the advance of extractive industries, such as fracking and agribusiness.

The fight against climate change and against climate catastrophe is also a fight against the massive corporations that murder anyone who stands in their way. This means uniting with workers and activists all over the world so that we can fight, together, against climate change, massive corporations, and the capitalist states that protect them.

Originally Published in Spanish on September 13 in La Izquierda Diario

Translated by Tatiana Cozarelli

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