Despite threats to her life, her grassroots campaign eventually forced the world’s largest dam developer, Sinohydro, to abandon plans to build a massive dam on the Gualcarque River, a river in western Honduras considered sacred by the indigenous Lenca people. Three years after this victory, she was gunned down in her home.
But her death is just one of many examples in which indigenous leaders have been killed for defending their communities and their local resources. Indigenous people made up more than a third of the 185 environmental defenders killed worldwide in 2015, according to a Global Witness report
. In Honduras alone, at least 123 land and environmental activists have been murdered since 2009.
In Chile, another country where indigenous peoples have been targeted for protecting their rights, last April I joined the 4th
National March for the Water in the city of Temuco. The aim of the march was to draw attention to the plurality of issues surrounding water, including access to clean water and the impact of large-scale dam projects.
The march — in which I joined indigenous people, students, and environmental groups — helped me focus my work on what can be done to address this problem.
he closing of civil society has taken several different forms worldwide, from South America to Sub-Saharan Africa to Russia. But we have come to recognize common conditions in countries where the greatest criminalization, attacks, and murders of environmentalists are occurring.
The first is states encouraging conflict by granting private corporations and industry the rights to community lands, water, and natural resources. State leaders see this as an opportunity to increase national income through the commercial extraction of raw natural resources, energy production, and the large-scale cultivation of food commodities for export.
The second is the stigmatization and censorship of those who oppose this development. In doing so, the state argues that these groups are keeping their countries trapped in poverty and taking away jobs. They accuse them of being foreign agents — or even terrorists. This characterization gives corporations and other citizens license to threaten, intimidate, and even perpetrate violence against activists. It also creates internal conflict within communities and social movements, causing divisions and fear.