"It was in 2020 when the chairman of our movement was assassinated. Soon after, they captured his successor. He is still in prison," Quel begins his narrative. He is 25 years old, originally from Honduras, and he too belongs to Earth Defenders - activists who fight to protect people and the planet. We meet in Guatemala, where we will hear several similar stories.
"It was very difficult for everybody, for the whole community. We were going through a collective depression," Quel admits. Many members of their initiative gave up, some moved away, no longer feeling safe at home. "We felt like we had lost the battle," he remembers.
One of the most dangerous countries
After all this, Quel assumed the role of leader of the movement and decided to report attacks on their members. "We have filed eleven lawsuits and we encourage other communities to do the same," says Quel, for whom this means risking his life.
Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental and other activists. Young people like Quel face daily harassment, arrests, but there are also murders.
It's all backed up by numbers. The non-profit Global Witness has been tracking violence against Earth Defenders since 2012. According to their most recent report, in 2020 they recorded up to 227 murders of Earth defenders worldwide. That means four murders every single week. In reality, however, there are likely many more cases because many attacks go unreported.
"Of course I'm scared. I know what I'm doing and I'm probably going to die for it, like so many before me," continues Selvin, just 22, a friend of Quel's. Both have come to Guatemala as climate ambassadors. But unlike the European ambassadors, they took a risk just by leaving their country.
Attacks from both government and companies
If you are an Earth Defender, risk is part of your life. They also face persecution or vilification in other Latin American countries. In Nicaragua, for example, where Sara, another young climate ambassador, is from, "Anyone who fights for environmental rights in my country is considered a criminal who tries to undermine the cohesion of the nation. Everything I do, I do knowing that I am therefore in danger," says Sara, who has actively worked with NGOs on climate protection.
In practice, this might look like waking up one day to find that the government has shut down the organisation you used to work for, for example. That's exactly what happened to Sara. This year alone, the government regime in Nicaragua has dissolved more than 800 NGOs and confiscated their assets. "It's a risk that all activists in Central America have to come to terms with," she says.
"The government has criminalized many of my colleagues, while others have received death threats from mining companies," Selvin says. Also according to a report by EarthRights International, powerful corporate, financial or government elites are most often behind the attacks.
For example, Earth Defenders are in danger when they speak out against companies that want to extract minerals, timber, oil and gas on indigenous peoples' territories. It is in and around indigenous territories that human rights violations are most common, according to the report of the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council.
Fighting climate change = often a fight for your life
Esteban is a national park ranger in Guatemala. He tries to protect the park from people who come here illegally to cut down trees or hunt wildlife. "We take shifts. We have to protect our park from invaders all the time, even during the Christmas holidays. We have often faced threats or physical attacks. Some of my colleagues have even been shot at while on duty," says Esteban.
He believes that we must protect nature because it is part of the life of the whole planet. His community relies on it and needs it, so they are willing to risk their lives for it.
It's not just about the community. The climate crisis is global and affects every country in the world. However, it is happening unevenly. The poorer countries, which have contributed least to it, are the worst affected. Equally, or even more, uneven is the violence against the defenders of the Earth. In 2020, 226 of the 227 killings of defenders took place in countries of the global South.
"There was a time when I considered moving to Europe. Two years ago I was the victim of an assassination attempt, before that I had received death threats, I had been slandered and the police had all my social networks under surveillance," says Kaleth, who was the national coordinator of an environmental organisation in Nicaragua until the government disbanded it.
We speak to Kaleth during our joint visit to the indigenous people living around Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. The lake is polluted, there are landslides, trees are being cut down. It is one example of how indigenous peoples are suffering because of economic interests.
Permanent and temporary fear
Earth Defenders, according to Kaleth, struggle with two kinds of fear: permanent and temporary. Temporary is the kind that only comes up when a specific activity or its planning is taking place. A permanent one is one that persists afterwards. It is a constant fear for life and safety. Still, Kaleth surprises by saying that it is worth it.
"Even though we live in different parts of the world, we are one person. One person fighting for the same goal and that is to save the planet we live on," said Sara. And Selvin added: "We are the voice of the environment, the tears that are shed in the face of injustice. We are human beings just like everyone else and we have the same rights to a healthy life and envirnment as you do. We must not allow our only common home, our planet Earth, to be destroyed. Help us to do this."
Original article: https://hnonline.sk/svet/96057364-earth-defenders-ludia-ktori-kvoli-ochrane-zeme-riskuju-vlastne-zivoty
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