Guatemala, members of the Yaloch community perform forest protection work. Photo: ACOPOF (Association of Forest Communities of Petén)

Water, soil, wood and minerals. The richness of the fertile Mesoamerican lands, rivers and forests is cause of violence, persecution and death for those who defend it.

The most important Mesoamerican forest reserves are currently protected by indigenous and traditional communities: Mayan Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, Río Plátano Reserve in Honduras, Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua, Talamanca-La Amistad Reserves in Costa Rica and the Darien National Park in Panamá.

From Mexico to Panama, those who raise their voice to defend the forests and their biodiversity are suffering all kinds of violence, persecution and criminalization: police and judicial harassment are common place for environmental leaders, who should be protected by their respective governments, not pressured and killed.

2015 has been the year with the highest number of killings of environmental defenders in recorded history. According to the report On Dangerous Ground, published by Global Witness, on average 3 activists were killed per week, for a total of 185 throughout the year, a number never seen before.

The names of some of these environmental defenders have become news due to the viciousness with which they were attacked and the cruelty of their murders, all of which have been related to the defense of territorial rights and natural resources.

For every killing we are able to document, others cannot be verified or go unreported. For every life lost, many more are blighted by violence, threats and constant intimidation — Global Witness
In Mexico: Ildefonso Zamora’s defense of the San Juan Atzingo forests cost him the life of his son Aldo, killed by illegal loggers, as well as 9 months in prison for a false theft charge. Photo: Greenpeace
In Honduras: Berta Cáceres, indigenous leader who faced China’s giant Sinohydro and the World Bank to defend the Lenca territory from hydroelectric project Aguas Zarcas, shot at her own home.

Nelson Garcia and Lesbia Urquía, partners of Berta Cáceres, he was shot in the face, she was killed with a machete to the head and her body abandoned near a Municipal landfill. In Guatemala, Walter Campos, Defender of the Maya Biosphere, killed by multiple shots. The Guardian reports that two more indigenous activists in Honduras have survived separate assassination attempts this week.

Thomas Garcia’s casket is led by members of the community — Despite living in extreme poverty and having a large family, Thomas did not accept a bribe of 20,000 lempiras ($980 USD) that was offered as a bribe for him to support a hydroelectric project in Rio Blanco, Honduras. His son Alan Garcia who accompanied him that day survived two shots. Photographs by Beverly Bell


According to UN figures, indigenous peoples –the same who continue to defend their territories from the voracity of the great political and economic powers- are the ones who suffer the most harassment and violence. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations Special Rapporteur, said on the issue “There should be an active process that challenges the dominant system of development, the system being promoted by most governments, and appreciate the contribution of indigenous peoples in the promotion of cultural and biological diversity.”

México, Otomí forest guardian. Community guardians often risk their lives in defense of the forests and their biodiversity. Taken at the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacán. Photo: Mesoamerican Alliance of People and Forests

Greed for natural resources and the impunity with which political and private interests besiege environmental activists is alarming

Mining, logging, ranching, agribusiness and hydroelectric projects carried out without the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples, are the main causes of the bloodshed in the territories in which natural resources remain untapped.

Protecting those who defend the land and its resources must be a global priority, not only because it implies respect for the fundamental rights we all should share, but because the very survival of humanity is closely related to this protection. The guardians of the natural resources of our planet are, in many cases, the last barrier standing between the total collapse of ecosystems and the point of no return for climate change.

We only have one planet. The struggle of indigenous peoples and traditional communities is a struggle for humankind

There has been no truce in the native people’s battle for survival since the arrival of the colonists to the American continent, not only their own survival but that of the biodiversity protected within the forests, the difference now is that these crimes are happening right before our eyes; do not let them go unpunished.
Please share this information so that more people become aware of what is happening with the lives of environmental defenders in Mesoamerica and the rest of the world.

Honduras, Miskito community members. In this area as in other parts of Mesoamerica and the world, communities have taken it upon themselves to face the threats that linger over the forests . Photo: Masta Miskitu