In its latest annual report, the UK-based group Global Witness counted 177 murders of environmental defenders worldwide last year. And 156 of them happened in Latin America.
Colombia tops the global ranking with 60 murders in yet another dire year for the country. This is almost double the number of killings compared to 2021, when 33 defenders lost their lives. Once again, Indigenous peoples, Afro-descendant communities, small-scale farmers and environmental activists have been viciously targeted.
In 2022, voters in Brazil and Colombia elected leaders who lean hard into pro-environment rhetoric. That may not mean daily life is any safer for those countries’ beleaguered communities trying to defend forests and other resources. Next year’s numbers, though, absolutely must go down. This is inexcusable.
July was the hottest month on record for the state of Arizona (a very hot state), by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, which takes up most of the state’s border miles, the agency apprehended more migrants (about 40,000) than in any single month since April 2008.
That is incredibly dangerous. Migrants face an elevated risk of death by dehydration or heat stroke in the region that, of all nine Border Patrol U.S.-Mexico border sectors, has been the deadliest for migrants over the past 25 years (blue in this chart).
The move to Arizona is recent. It appears to be a shift in response to the Biden administration’s post-Title 42 policies limiting access to asylum: word appears to have gotten out—correctly or not—that turning oneself in to Border Patrol in remote parts of Arizona increases chances of entering the U.S. asylum system without being deported, detained, or forced to wait weeks or months in a Mexican border city.
I’ve always enjoyed talking to Nina Lakhani over the years as she produced excellent reporting from Mexico and Central America for The Guardian. And I enjoyed recording this podcast with her two weeks ago, as she prepared for the release of her book Who Killed Berta Cáceres: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet (2020, Verso).
Latin America is one of the most dangerous regions in the world to be a human rights defender. In March 2016, Berta Cáceres – a much-admired environmental and indigenous leader from Honduras – was assassinated. Cáceres was a courageous leader, winner of the 2015 Goldman Prize for her efforts to stop dam construction on a river sacred to her Lenca people. But the assassinations of leaders like Berta are rarely investigated or prosecuted all the way to the masterminds. Government, criminal, and economic interests work to silence activists like her.
In this edition of Latin America Today, Nina Lakhani joins Adam Isacson for a discussion on her new book out on June 2, Who Killed Berta Cáceres: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet (2020, Verso). Lakhani is a veteran journalist whose work has brought to light corruption, state-sponsored violence, and impunity throughout Mexico and Central America. She is currently the Environmental Justice correspondent for The Guardian U.S.
Here, Lakhani talks about why she chose to write about Berta and her lifelong activism, helps us understand the multifaceted Honduran context and why social leaders like Berta are targeted, and provides in-depth analysis of her investigations into Berta’s assassination. The conversation ends with Lakhani’s outlook on how the upcoming U.S. presidential elections may affect accountability on what she calls “impunity on every level.”
Despite the grim subject matter, I enjoyed recording this conversation with two colleagues whom I’ve known for many years. I also don’t know much at all about the topic, so a lot of their recent report was new to me. They handled my basic questions very well. Here’s the text from WOLA’s website:
Preserving the Amazon rainforest ecosystem is essential to slowing climate change, but that is getting harder to do. When you think about environmental destruction in the Amazon region, you may picture illegal logging, cattle ranchers, agribusiness, and devastating fires. But it turns out that at least the western part of the Amazon is sitting on a sea of oil as well, and companies are moving in. These companies are getting financed by some big banks and investment firms in the United States.
In early March, Amazon Watch published a report on oil exploration plans and global financial firms’ role, Investing in Amazon Crude. We talk about the report’s findings, and what can be done about them, with two longtime Latin America human rights advocates from Amazon Watch. Moira Birss is the organization’s climate and finance director, and Andrew Miller is the advocacy director.