Environmental defenders in Latin America are in extreme danger

Ana de León

Panama City, Sep 28 (EFE).- Environmental defenders in Latin America and the Caribbean, the most dangerous region in the world for these activists, are in “danger of extinction,” a situation that has “worsened” in recent years, said Carlos Baraona, a prominent Chilean environmental lawyer, in an interview with EFE.

Baraona was sentenced in 2004 by his country’s justice system for slander against a senator as a result of statements he made about the felling of thousand-year-old trees, a case that culminated last February with the condemnation of the Chilean State by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR).

“Environmental defenders are in danger of extinction. Every defender gets up knowing that they can suffer strong reprisals,” said the influential environmentalist in the framework of the II Forum on Human Rights Defenders in Environmental Matters, held in Panama City this Wednesday and Thursday.

In Baraona’s opinion, in Latin America, “there is a policy of understanding the intensive exploitation of resources under the intentional view that this generates jobs, investment and sources of employment.”

A “voracious appetite for resources” in Latin America

The situation of environmental defenders in the region “has undoubtedly worsened,” as there is “a voracious appetite for resources,” especially in Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico, the three most dangerous countries in the world for environmentalists, according to data from the international association Global Witness.

Last year, 177 environmental defenders were murdered, and 88% of the murders occurred in Latin America. Specifically, Colombia was the most dangerous country for defenders in 2022 by recording 60 murders, a figure that is almost double that of 2021, when 33 leaders lost their lives for their work, according to data from that association.

Since 2012, when the organization began collecting this data, 1,335 defenders have lost their lives across Latin America, accounting for 70% of all deaths.

“There are historical communities that have always lived in the jungle, which are very interested in being exploited to generate intensive agriculture or other types of extraction,” Baraona said.

“Brazil, I think, has suffered, and Colombia (also). They are the (two countries) that I have more present, empathy and concern for what is happening to the defenders (…) (Colombia’s case) is impressive,” he added.

“I have faith in the Escazú Agreement”

“The Escazú Agreement is recent. It is in a stage where we do not know where it will go or what strength it will gain. It depends on the communities to make it their own and contribute pressures to move forward,” Baraona detailed.

The Escazú Agreement is an important human rights treaty on environmental issues, which entered into force two years ago and has been ratified by 15 Latin American countries.

“I have faith in the Escazú Agreement. It is the first important pact,” he said.

He added that rulings such as his “are viewed with concern by governments such as El Salvador, which will have less interest in being part of the agreement to avoid questioning.”

On February 28, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned the State of Chile for violating the freedom of thought and expression of Carlos Baraona Bray, who was sentenced for slander against a senator for statements on the illegal felling of the alerce tree, an ancient species preserved in Chile.

The criminal proceedings brought by the senator against Baraona in the Chilean justice system culminated in a sentence in 2004 for the crime of “serious insults” to 300 days suspended imprisonment, a fine, and an accessory penalty of suspension from public office for the period of the sentence. EFE


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