Environmental Activists Are Being Killed in Record Numbers
A disturbing trend of murder is on the rise in developing countries where environmental activists are standing up to corporations stripping their land of natural resources.
Environmental activists are being killed in record numbers across the world.
Photo By Sandip bhattacharya / www.flickr.com
Last summer, photographer Ron Haviv and I were in Cajamarca, Peru, where the Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation plans to spend $4.8 billion on a new gold mine, Conga, in an environmentally sensitive area of the high Andes. The project has provoked massive opposition, and Haviv and I were detained by security officials when we tried to visit the mine site and later tear-gassed by riot police during a demonstration protesting the killing of five opponents of the Conga project earlier that day.
But the story doesn’t end there. When we went back to our hotel later that night, we went online to find details of the newly declared state of emergency. What we found sharing the day’s headlines was a wire service story reporting that Chinese officials had halted work on a new molybdenum-copper alloy plant in Sichuan province after mass demonstrations in which 13 people were hospitalized after being attacked by riot police. A couple of minutes on Google then took us to two people (or perhaps four—reports are contradictory) killed in protests in late May against a giant copper mine in the southern Peruvian province of Cusco. And from there to the bodies of two Brazilian environmental activists found tied up and drowned 50 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. The two men had been involved in protests against a huge new petrochemical complex, financed by the state oil company, Petrobras, which would threaten the rich fishing grounds of Guanabara Bay.
And so it went on, case after case, country after country, a veritable worldwide epidemic of killing. Most of it is provoked by opposition to the competitive stampede by powerful corporations making multi-billion-dollar investments to dig up, cut down, and ship out the world’s remaining natural resources, a disproportionate amount of which lie beneath the soil of developing countries and more often than not (as in Peru) in the territory of indigenous peoples. These are frequently places with feeble judicial systems, limited or nonexistent environmental laws, and a culture of collusion between governments and foreign corporations who promise that at least a little of the wealth from their gold and copper mines, their logging operations, their oil and natural gas plays, or their giant soybean or palm oil plantations will trickle down to the impoverished locals.
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