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Funeral of Yaqui environmental activist Tomas Rojo Pallbearers at the funeral of Yaqui activist Tomás Rojo of Sonora, one of 54 land and environmental activists in Mexico killed in 2021, according to Global Witness. Twitter

Mexico was the deadliest country for environmental activists in 2021

International nonprofit Global Witness said out of 200 murdered activists worldwide in 2021, 54 were from Mexico

More land and environmental activists were killed in Mexico than any other country last year, according to an international non-governmental organization.

Global Witness (GW) conducted a worldwide analysis that found that 200 land and environmental defenders were murdered in 2021. Fifty-four of that number were killed in Mexico, an increase of 24, or 80%, compared to the 2020 tally of 30.

“Mexico was the country with the highest recorded number of killings, with defenders killed every month,” GW said in a new report titled Decade of Defiance.

“… Over 40% of those killed were indigenous people, and over a third of the total were forced disappearances, including at least eight members of the Yaqui community.”

Jaime Jimenez Ruiz murdered Oaxaca environmental activist
Jaime Jiménez Ruiz, a staunch protector of the Rio Verde in Oaxaca, was killed on March 28. Twitter

GW said that “conflicts over land and mining were each linked to two-thirds of lethal attacks,” and “around two-thirds of the killings were concentrated in the states of Oaxaca and Sonora, both of which have significant mining investments.”

“[Mexico] has risen rapidly over the last ten years as one of the most dangerous places for land and environmental defenders, with 154 documented cases over this period. The majority of killings (131) took place between 2017 and 2021,” said the NGO, which has exposed environmental and human rights abuses for almost 30 years.

GW said that forced disappearances of environmental activists are common in Mexico and carried out by both criminal groups and corrupt officials.

“Indigenous territories are highly vulnerable to the prolific number of large-scale extractive projects promoted by national and foreign companies and backed by the Mexican government. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has raised concerns about the lack of adequate consultation with potentially affected communities and the subsequent attacks on those standing against signature projects,” it said.

Oaxacan activist Fidel Heras Cruz
Fidel Heras Cruz, a communal landowner in Oaxaca who opposed hydroelectric projects along the Rio Verde and in Paso de la Reina, Oaxaca, was killed in January 2021. Facebook

“The Commission has flagged criminalization and smear campaigns as harmful threats against land and environmental defenders in Mexico.”

The NGO noted that impunity for crimes committed against land and environmental defenders “remains rife, with over 94% of crimes not reported, and only 0.9% resolved.”

GW highlighted the case of Irma Galindo Barrios, a Mixtec woman who disappeared in Oaxaca last October. “Since 2018, Irma had faced intimidation by public officials, as well as harassment, persecution, defamation campaigns and death threats as a result of her defense of the forests,” the NGO’s report said.

It also noted that officials last September discovered remains of some of 10 Yaqui men who disappeared in July 2021.

activist Irma Galindo Barrios
Global Witness highlighted the case of activist Irma Galindo Barrios, who fought for Oaxaca’s forests and many other causes. She disappeared in October 2021 after years of threats.

“Following multiple disappearances and murders in the Yaqui community last year, officials stated they believed drug cartels were responsible. Some in the community, however, said they also suspect the government and corporations interested in Yaqui land and resources of being involved,” GW said.

Among other land and environment defenders murdered in Mexico last year were Yaqui water activist Tomás Rojo and Guerrero forest protector Carlos Marqués Oyorzábal.

After Mexico, Colombia was the deadliest country for land and environment defenders with 33 murders last year. Brazil ranked third with 26 followed by the Philippines with 19 and Nicaragua with 15. Over three-quarters of last year’s murders of environmental activists occurred in Latin America, GW said.

The NGO also said that research found that a total of 1,733 land and environment defenders have been killed over the past ten years, a figure that equates to one person murdered every two days.

Sonoran environmental activist Tomas Rojo in 2019 in Baja California
Tomás Rojo speaking to activists and residents of pueblos originarios in Tijuana in 2019. Omar Martínez/Cuartoscuro

“All over the world, indigenous peoples, environmental activists and other land and environmental defenders risk their lives for the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss,” an unnamed GW spokesperson said in a press release.

“They play a crucial role as a first line of defense against ecological collapse, yet are under attack themselves facing violence, criminalization and harassment perpetuated by repressive governments and companies prioritizing profit over human and environmental harm,” the spokesperson said.

“With democracies increasingly under attack globally and worsening climate and biodiversity crises, this report highlights the critical role of defenders in solving these problems and makes an urgent appeal for global efforts to protect and reduce attacks against them.”

Mexico News Daily 

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