By Katherine Zavala, IDEX’s Regional Director for Latin America
“They thought they would bury us, but didn’t realize we were seeds.”
This has now become a popular phrase to honor the legacy, commitment and resistance of many activists in Latin America who have been killed for their powerful fight to defend Mother Earth and our human rights.
Four murders in Latin America in January mean another reason to strengthen and resource strategies that will protect and visibilize the many existing fights people are leading to defend our Mother Earth. It means a responsibility to keep their struggle alive and to have a clear understanding of the risks involved in defending our human rights.
Saying their name out loud and sharing their struggle, is the way we honor them and bring them with us on our path to build a just and equitable world.
Sebastian Alonso Juan, indigenous Guatemalan human rights and land defender, was murdered on January 17, during a peaceful protest against the construction of a three mega-hydroelectric dams project in the state of Huehuetenango. Along with many members of indigenous Chuj and Q’anjob’ local communities, the human rights defender was leading efforts to repeal the company Promoción y Desarrollos Hídricos SA, responsible for the construction of hydroelectric project Pojom I and Pojom II. Indigenous peoples in the area have denounced the environmental destruction created by these megaprojects as well as the failure of authorities to consult indigenous peoples before granting construction permits.
Emilsen Manyoma, also murdered on January 17th, was a prominent leader in the Bajo Calima region in Colombia since 2005. Manyoma was an active member of the community network Communities Building Peace in the Territories (CONPAZ) where she was an outspoken critic of right-wing paramilitary groups and the displacement of local by international mining and agribusiness interests. CONPAZ is an initiative of communities and organizations that live in territories where the armed conflict is taking place and national and international companies are present. CONPAZ is also a mutual support network for communities to be able to exchange experiences relating to non-violent protection and application of international humanitarian law.
Laura Leonor Vasquez Pineda, shot on January 16, was a member of the Committee for the Defense of Life and Peace in San Rafael Las Flores near the El Escobal silver mine owned by Canadian company Tahoe Resources. The area near the El Escobal silver mine has been a scene of conflict since the mine was established in 2007. Opponents of the mine, mainly Xinca people, have held numerous peaceful protests that have been met with violence from mine guards and police.
Isidro Baldenegro López, murdered on January 15th, was a subsistence farmer and community leader of Mexico’s indigenous Tarahumara people in the Sierra Madre mountain region. In 1993, Baldenegro López formed an advocacy group and began organizing sit-ins and marches to force the government to suspend logging licenses. He spent much of his life defending old growth forests from devastating logging in a region torn by violence, corruption and drug-trafficking. His efforts against deforestation earned him the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2005.
Learn more about the threats to environmental activists in Latin America and around the world:
- How many more? Global Witness report shows killings of environmental activists are increasing, with indigenous communities hardest hit
- Map: 116 environmental activists were killed in just one year, Grist
- Women Crossing the Line: Breaking the Silence on Violence Against Women in Honduras, Nobel Women’s Institute and JASS
- In our bones: Stories from women defending land, community, human rights, and the environment in Indonesia and the Philippines, Urgent Action Fund
- The deadly price of environmental activism, DW