Do companies ever voluntarily die out?

Many environmentalists die fighting deforestation and mining

Riohacha. Protests against mines and deforestation, hydropower plants and large farms are dangerous in many places: Last year 212 environmentalists were killed worldwide, according to a study published on Wednesday by the non-governmental organization Global Witness. That's more than four murders a week on average - and more than ever before. In addition, environmentalists in many countries are repeatedly threatened, slandered and brought to justice because of their work.

According to the study, most of the murders of environmental activists took place in Colombia (64), the Philippines (43) and Brazil (24). Global Witness registered more than two thirds of all cases in Latin America. But two environmental activists were also killed in the EU country Romania last year. The organization assumes that the actual number of environmentalists killed is significantly higher because many cases are covered up or not reported.

According to the non-governmental organization, behind the acts of violence are mostly companies, farmers and, in some cases, state actors as well as criminal gangs, paramilitary groups and rebels. "Agriculture, oil, gas and mining cause violence against environmentalists - these are precisely the industries that fuel climate change through deforestation and emissions," says Rachel Cox of Global Witness.

Most of the murders are related to mining (50), followed by agriculture (34) and forestry (24). "Many of the worst human rights violations have to do with the exploitation of our natural resources and corruption in politics and the economy," says Cox. "Environmentalists are those who stand up against it."

In the extreme northeast of Colombia, Angelicá Ortiz has been fighting the environmental damage caused by the El Cerrejón coal mine for years. The largest open-cast coal mine in Latin America extends over around 690 square kilometers in the La Guajira department and recently produced more than 25 million tons of coal per year.

"Our water sources are drying up, the air and water are polluted with heavy metals, people get sick," says Ortiz. Their Wayúu people live in the semi-desert of Guajira mainly from cattle breeding. "We fight for our country, our rights and a healthy environment," says Ortiz.

Germany also imports coal from Colombia. However, the amount has recently decreased significantly. While the South American country was still the second largest hard coal supplier for German power plants after Russia in 2016 with 8.1 million tons, Colombia slipped into fourth place with only 2.1 million tons last year.

Nevertheless, environmentalist Ortiz sees electricity consumers in Germany as responsible. "You should know what's going on here so that it is light and warm," she says. “Entire villages have to give way here and people get sick.” In addition, Ortiz and her fellow campaigners are repeatedly threatened and intimidated by the Wayúu women's association because of their commitment.

Despite the peace treaty between the Colombian government and the left-wing guerrilla organization Farc, violence against social leaders, human rights activists and environmentalists has recently increased in the South American country. The number of murders of environmental activists rose 150 percent in 2019 compared to the previous year. With 64 cases, Colombia accounts for around 30 percent of all murders worldwide.

Ortiz has gotten away with it so far, but her enemies always keep an eye on her. Her name last appeared on a leaflet that was circulating in La Guajira, entitled Death for All - Social Cleansing. “Enough, you rats. Soon we will root out one by one. You have 48 hours to leave the department, ”it said. Ortiz stayed - so did the fear. dpa / nd

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