A new report has found that 86 environmental activists have been killed in Mexico since 2012, with a third of the killings linked to energy projects — an alarming fact as new development ramps up.
Of the 500 attacks against environmental activists documented between 2012 and 2019, nearly 150 were linked to their protesting energy projects, according to a report by the Mexican Center for Environmental Rights (Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental – CEMDA). About 70 attacks were tied to the mining industry.
While violence against the activists took place nationwide, the southern state of Oaxaca saw the largest share of attacks, with 85 instances of violence against activists in seven years.
The report did not shed much light on who was behind the attacks. CEMDA stated that local officials, police and the National Guard were responsible for over 40 percent of the attacks in 2019, but it gave few details about how they were linked to the violence. In another 40 percent of cases, the aggressors were not reported, an unsurprising fact in a country where around 90 percent of murders go unsolved.
While the number of reported attacks has dropped from a high of 107 in 2015 to 39 in 2019, killings have increased. In 2019, 15 activists were killed, higher than the average of 10 killed in the seven prior years.
Recent high-profile killings include the February 2019 murder of Samir Flores who was shot dead after protesting the Integral Project Morelos (Proyecto Integral Morelos – PIM), an ambitious development plan for the states of Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala, involving a thermoelectric plant, a gas pipeline and aqueduct. Flores had protested the project since 2011 but had intensified his opposition in the months before his death. More than a year later, his case remains unsolved.
More recently, two butterfly activists were killed in January and March of 2020. Also in March, Isaac Herrera, an environmental defender of Los Venados National Park in Morelos was assassinated in his own home.
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CEMDA’s findings are a damning indictment of how Mexican authorities reportedly violate human rights when facing opponents of energy, mining and timber projects, among others.
And the sectors involved are unlikely to slow down their development. On the contrary, Mexico has been speeding up its rate of energy project development since its landmark 2013 Energy Reform. This is only set to accelerate in 2020, providing plenty of potential flashpoints between authorities, private companies and environmental defenders.
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In February 2019, days before Flores was murdered, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador lambasted opponents of the PIM, calling them “left-wing radicals.”
While less than three percent of all attacks were related to illegal logging between 2012 and 2018, it became the second most common cause of violence against activists in 2019. Local community members in the state of Chihuahua told InSight Crime in January 2019 that drug trafficking groups had muscled in on the illegal timber trade and that standing up to loggers who served the interests of criminal groups often came with a death sentence.