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Is Nicaragua one of the world’s ‘deadliest countries’ to be an environmental defender? (commentary)

first_imgArticle published by Mike Gaworecki In a recent report by Global Witness, Latin America was again identified as one of the most dangerous regions for those protecting forests, halting mining projects, opposing big dams, and taking other action in defence of the environment.Surprisingly, however, one country singled out for attention is Nicaragua, described by Global Witness (GW) as one of the ‘deadliest countries for activists’ because it had ‘the most killings per capita’ in the world in 2016. How accurate is this assertion?All of us share concerns about the planned interoceanic canal, which features strongly in GW’s new report, and would cross the southern part of the country. There have been at least 87 protest marches against the canal, and a degree of harassment of protestors. But – importantly – there have been no deaths.This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay. Earlier this month, Global Witness published its latest annual report on the deaths of environmental defenders. As Mongabay reported, Latin America was again identified as one of the most dangerous regions for those protecting forests, halting mining projects, opposing big dams, and taking other action in defence of the environment.Surprisingly, however, one country singled out for attention is Nicaragua, described by Global Witness (GW) as one of the ‘deadliest countries for activists’ because it had ‘the most killings per capita’ in the world in 2016. How accurate is this assertion?I live in Nicaragua and work with a small environmental NGO, and have discussed the GW report with others knowledgeable about the country’s environmental issues. All of us share concerns about the planned interoceanic canal, which features strongly in GW’s new report, and would cross the southern part of the country. There have been at least 87 protest marches against the canal, and a degree of harassment of protestors. But — importantly — there have been no deaths.Nevertheless, the majority of the section on Nicaragua in GW’s new report is devoted to the canal. Very misleadingly, it juxtaposes commentary on the canal and quotes from protestors (‘The only response we have had is the bullet’) with reports of killings of indigenous people. However, these killings — which GW says total 24 over two years — have nothing to do with the canal, whose route is over 200 kilometres to the south.The region in the northeast of Nicaragua that includes the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve is under severe pressure from settlers moving from other parts of the country. They see ‘empty’ land, and either move in to occupy it, have been granted concessions under government schemes, or rent or buy the land from the indigenous communities which often have communal land rights. These land rights cannot be sold, so the titles often lack legal status. Inevitably, there are conflicts with the original owners or the indigenous communities. In a region that was one of the main arenas of the ‘Contra’ war in the 1980s, and is now plagued by narco-trafficking, both sides have ready access to arms. Reports of pitched battles, destruction of settler homesteads, and killings of individual settlers and indigenous people are frequent.In compiling its worldwide lists of those killed each year, GW clearly has to be careful how ‘environmental defenders’ are defined. They include those who take ‘peaceful action… to protect the environment or land rights,’ among whom are ‘peasant leaders… living in remote mountains or isolated forests, protecting their ancestral lands.’ These are the parts of GW’s definition that relate most closely to Nicaragua, yet it is far from clear that the 24 deaths comply with it. We don’t know whether those killed were armed, but we do know that neither the indigenous groups nor the settlers are engaged solely in ‘peaceful actions.’ It is also clear from examining the details of some of the 24 cases that characterising them all as deaths in defence of the environment is highly questionable: one was a park ranger elsewhere in Nicaragua who apparently died in a personal feud, another was a political activist in the Bosawás area who died after being temporarily kidnapped by a rival party, and a third was a community leader whose killing was reported to have nothing to do with the land disputes.The reason for questioning GW’s compilation and use of statistics is not to try to lessen the significance of the land disputes in Nicaragua, which are having a devastating affect on both the remaining forests and the people involved in the disputes. However, as one detailed 2015 study has said, it is wrong to see the conflicts as between ‘victims’ and oppressors,’ as on both sides there are poor people struggling to eke out a living from the land. The conflicts, and the deaths on both sides (GW only lists deaths among the indigenous communities), are an ongoing tragedy resulting from the advance of the agricultural frontier into forests that are also communal lands. Criticisms of the government for not doing more to resolve the disputes are justified, but it must also be borne in mind that the task is a huge one given that, if they are evicted, the settlers often have nowhere else to go. The communities involved are also remote: police investigating a reported murder of one family spent two days on foot to reach the scene of the crime.The problem with GW’s latest report is that it mixes its brief reporting of these land disputes with wider criticisms of the alleged dangers facing environmental defenders in Nicaragua. For example, the canal protests take place against the ‘terrifying backdrop’ of ‘multiple murders’ that in fact occurred at the opposite end of the country from the territories through which the canal will pass. Criticisms of the government’s ineffective action in resolving the land disputes therefore appear to be much wider condemnations of government inaction on — or complicity in — death threats to environmental defenders in general.This is very disappointing, because GW’s work in exposing the deaths of environmental defenders is vitally important. Nowhere is this truer than in neighbouring Honduras, where the death of the renowned environmentalist Berta Cáceres was recorded by GW along with 13 other deaths in the country last year. However, the situation in Honduras and indeed in other Latin American countries where activists live in danger of their lives is very different from Nicaragua. Travellers between the two neighbouring countries remark on the change in atmosphere when crossing from Honduras to Nicaragua.Yet, in addition to reporting the 24 deaths in Nicaragua, GW says that laws restricting free speech have been ‘tightened,’ human rights defenders have been arrested, and environmental activists expelled. This is grossly misleading. For example, freedom of speech is evidenced by two main anti-government newspapers and several TV channels, active opposition political parties, and anti-government demonstrations. There is vociferous public criticism of the canal project – even the government’s own scientific adviser publicly questions its environmental impact. A while ago I went to a well-attended conference at the main university that was addressed exclusively by the canal’s opponents.Why does this seemingly deliberate confusion by GW of two separate issues matter? First, the reports are unfair both to Nicaragua and to Honduras, where the problems are immense. Giving the impression that the authorities in both countries are almost equally bad in this respect does, quite simply, let Honduras off the hook.Second, Nicaragua — unlike Honduras — is making real attempts to deal with environmental issues. They are far from enough, but they involve reforestation programmes by young people, protection for turtle nesting sites, being a leading country in Latin America in embracing wind, solar, and geothermal power, and so on. Few people who know Nicaragua would claim that environmental activists live in fear of their lives.Finally, these comparisons are highly relevant in a region where policy and funding by the USA favours Honduras, largely ignoring its human rights abuses. A group of Republican senators is currently trying to get Trump to mount economic sanctions — not against Honduras, but against Nicaragua and its left-wing government. The subtleties of the reporting by Global Witness will be ignored in Washington, but their main message — that Nicaragua is trampling on human rights — is just the one the country’s opponents want to hear.The people of Rama Cay, an island in the Bluefields Lagoon on the eastern coast of Nicaragua that sits in the path of the proposed canal, gather to express their opposition to the Nicaragua Canal at a public meeting. Photos courtesy of CALPI (Centro de Asistencia Legal a Pueblos Indígenas).CITATIONSJhon, E. (2015). Presencia de colonos en el territorio MSBAS y las tensiones sobre la autonomía comunitaria de la tierra. Instituto de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Universidad Centroamericana.Global Witness. (2017). Defenders of the Earth.John Perry lives in Masaya, Nicaragua, writes on Latin America for the London Review of Books, and works voluntarily with a local environmental NGO. His website is twoworlds.me.FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page. Activism, Canals, Commentary, Conflict, Editorials, Environment, Funding, Human Rights, Indigenous Communities, Indigenous Peoples, Infrastructure, Land Conflict center_img Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. So called ‘Mankind’ has a lot to answer for we are the only ones ruining this world I prefer animals to humans any day of the week.What makes community ecotourism succeed? In Madagascar, location, location, locationScissors1dOther countries should also learn and try to incorporateWhy you should care about the current wave of mass extinctions (commentary)Processor1 DecAfter all, there is no infinite anything in the whole galaxy!Infinite stupidity, right here on earth.The wildlife trade threatens people and animals alike (commentary)Anchor3dUnfortunately I feel The Chinese have no compassion for any living animal. They are a cruel country that as we knowneatbeverything that moves and do not humanily kill these poor animals and insects. They have no health and safety on their markets and they then contract these diseases. Maybe its karma maybe they should look at the way they live and stop using animals for all there so called remedies. DisgustingConservationists welcome China’s wildlife trade banThobolo27 JanChina has consistently been the worlds worst, “ Face of Evil “ in regards our planets flora and fauna survival. In some ways, this is nature trying to fight back. This ban is great, but the rest of the world just cannot allow it to be temporary, because history has demonstrated that once this coronavirus passes, they will in all likelihood, simply revert to been the planets worst Ecco Terrorists. Let’s simply not allow this to happen! How and why they have been able to degrade this planets iconic species, rape the planets rivers, oceans and forests, with apparent impunity, is just mind boggling! Please no more.Probing rural poachers in Africa: Why do they poach?Carrot3dOne day I feel like animals will be more scarce, and I agree with one of my friends, they said that poaching will take over the world, but I also hope notUpset about Amazon fires last year? 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I feel overwhelmed by the ecocidal intent of the Bolsonaro government in the name of ‘developing’ their ‘God-given’ resources.U.S. allocates first of $30M in grants for forest conservation in SumatraPlanet4dcarrot hella thick ;)Melting Arctic sea ice may be altering winds, weather at equator: studyleftylarry30 JanThe Arctic sea ice seems to be recovering this winter as per the last 10-12 years, good news.Malaysia has the world’s highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest mapBone27 Sep, 2018Who you’re trying to fool with selective data revelation?You can’t hide the truth if you show historical deforestation for all countries, especially in Europe from 1800s to this day. WorldBank has a good wholesome data on this.Mass tree planting along India’s Cauvery River has scientists worriedSurendra Nekkanti23 JanHi Mongabay. Good effort trying to be objective in this article. I would like to give a constructive feedback which could help in clearing things up.1. It is mentioned that planting trees in village common lands will have negative affects socially and ecologically. There is no need to even have to agree or disagree with it, because, you also mentioned the fact that Cauvery Calling aims to plant trees only in the private lands of the farmers. So, plantation in the common lands doesn’t come into the picture.2.I don’t see that the ecologists are totally against this project, but just they they have some concerns, mainly in terms of what species of trees will be planted. And because there was no direct communication between the ecologists and Isha Foundation, it was not possible for them to address the concerns. As you seem to have spoken with an Isha spokesperson, if you could connect the concerned parties, it would be great, because I see that the ecologists are genuinely interested in making sure things are done the right way.May we all come together and make things happen.Rare Amazon bush dogs caught on camera in BoliviaCarrot1 Feba very good iniciative to be fallowed by the ranchers all overSponsoredlast_img read more