The price of being a Green activist in Latin America

Becoming a political candidate requires courage and often implies accepting counterparts, such as becoming constantly exposed publicly. Standing for affirmed policies comes with the reality of encountering adversaries in the political arena and sometimes, even enemies. Being a public figure rimes with being an easy target and it is not uncommon that politicians are victims of personal attacks. In western countries, politicians may face harassment and threats. As a matter of a fact, Annamie Paul, the Green Party candidate of the past federal election, claimed a few weeks before the campaign to be threatened with her public events being disturbed.

And despite this being unacceptable, in some regions of the world, price is even higher, and especially for Green party members, it can even lead to death.

On the Friday night of the 23rd of April, the candidate for the 15th district of  the Green Party of Mexico (Partido verde Ecologista de México), Francisco Rocha Chavez was murdered in his home by hitmen. This event was only five days after he started his political campaign. This frightful crime has rapidly fallen into oblivion, as this has regrettably become a reality for Green politicians in Latin America.

In 2020 alone, 227 environmental activists were murdered. This makes Latin America the deadliest place to be an environmental activist in the eyes of many international observers such as Global Witness.

Indeed, most Green politicians in Latin America live in constant fear, like Luis Miguel Moisés García-Peña, a member of the Green Party of Colombia. He stated this past summer through his social media that he received a call in which he was warned not to run for office or he would be killed. As he specifies in his tweeter thread, he is terrified because he was threatened with very specific information about his residency location.

The world’s most lethal industry sector for environmental defenders is mining, according to the NGO Global Witness. The extraction of raw material in the Latin American region has brought with itself a great amount of colateral crimes. There is now a consolidated net of mafia and organized crime.  As an energetic transition to renewable energies is central to the vast majority of political platforms of Green Parties, they are therefore perceived as a  threat to the status quo from which mineral extractors benefit. The profit generated from this industry so precious to loggers, petroleum workers, gem and metal miners, aswell as organized crime affiliates, is hence the mobile of this vicious crime.

This reality is not unique to politicians and unfortunately, being directly enrolled in a political party is not the only criterion necessary to become a target.

According to the Non Profit Organisation Climate Reality, indigenous people are the first victims of violence related to Climate Change. In the case of Brazil, many indigenous tribes are constantly fighting to preserve their territories from deforestation companies. Paulo Paulino Guajajara, has become the face of the struggle of the Guajajara people. Considered as a « Guardian of the Forest », activist Paulo Paulino Guajajara was murdered as he was trying to protect his homeland from the hands of deforestation companies, as Greenpeace exposes. His story touched people all over the world in 2019, but two years later after his life was taken away, the members of his family deplore that « Nothing has changed ».

In fact, a reason why this seems to be a recurrent situation in Latin America is the lack of impunity. In the last decade,  only 14 of the 300 reported cases of murder of environmental activists have been addressed in court, according Human Rights Watch.

At last, being an activist to avoid the extinction of humanity in the not so-long term, seems to bring with itself the cost of an even more premature death.

Anne Hamon Martinez

Born and raised in Barcelona, Anne moved to Montreal to Study Political Science at the University of Montreal. Having been part of environmental grassroots movements from her very young age, she is particularly interested in the link between social and environmental justice. She aims to help spreading awareness on climate issues making information accessible to everyone in a responsible and informed way, which is why she joined GGN. Her passions include environmentalism, drawing political cartoons and cycling. In the near future, she would like to specialize in Environmental Policy in order contribute to implement green and socially fair policies.

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