Last year, 116 environmentalists were murdered – almost double the number of journalists killed over the same period – according to a new report by Global Witness.
Land conflicts related to hydropower, mining and agribusiness caused the rising number of deaths. Latin America emerged as the most dangerous place for environmentalists, host to over three-quarters of killings; 40 per cent of victims were indigenous activists.
In Colombia – which saw 25 killings last year, second only to Brazil – indigenous Nasa people are seeking to recover land occupied by vast sugar plantations, to replant them with trees and traditional crops. They are now being violently opposed by police and paramilitary groups.
In April, Nasa musician Carlos Garcia needed emergency surgery after being shot in the head by police, while protesting at the ‘Emperatriz’ plantation in Cauca province, western Colombia. Days later, youth activist Guillermo Paví was shot and killed at the same location.
‘The sugar cane doesn’t benefit the earth like the forests that once grew here,’ explained Garcia, who is now in recovery. ‘It just contaminates it with pesticides. This struggle is not just about us. It’s about visions: that of a dignified Mother Earth, versus that of monoculture.’
Global Witness cautions that some killings will have gone unrecorded due to the remoteness of many communities subject to land conflicts.