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Latin America most dangerous region for environmentalists in 2015

June 19, 2016

Latin America remains the most dangerous region for environmental activists, according to a new report from the U.K.-based watchdog group Global Witness.

Now in its third iteration, the report, “On Dangerous Ground,” assembled information on the known worldwide murders of environmentalists and land defenders in 2015.

With 185 recorded deaths, 2015 was the deadliest year on record for environmentalists.

“As demand for products like minerals, timber and palm oil continues, governments, companies and criminal gangs are seizing land in defiance of the people who live in it,” said Global Witness campaign leader Billy Kyte.

“Communities that take a stand are increasingly finding themselves in the firing line of companies’ private security, state forces and a thriving market for contract killers.”

More than 65 percent of the murders tallied by Global Witness in 2015 occurred in Latin America, with 50 environmentalists killed in Brazil alone. Activists were also killed in Colombia, Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

Most of the murders in the region stemmed from conflicts related to mining, agri-business and hydroelectric dams, according to Global Witness, with indigenous people disproportionality affected.

The peril faced by environmental activists in Central America came into the spotlight this year with the March murder of Honduran indigenous leader Berta Cáceres. After years of facing threats for protesting against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on indigenous land, Cáceres was shot in her home along with a Mexican activist who survived the attack.

Five men with ties to the Honduran military and the dam’s construction company have been arrested in the case.

Due to her international recognition, Cáceres’ murder has drawn an unprecedented amount of international attention and calls for an independent investigation. The newly formed Honduras anti-corruption commission, spearheaded by the Organization of American States, is investigating the case, but activists continue to demand international intervention.

Last week, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would suspend U.S. security assistance to Honduras “until such time as human rights violations by Honduran security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.”

In many of the cases documented by Global Witness, the suspected killers have strong ties to the government or private companies. The report notes that most perpetrators of environmental murders are rarely charged for their crimes.

“This entrenched culture of impunity makes it easier for further killings to take place as those responsible know they are unlikely to be held to account,” the report said.

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