Diana Gabriela Aranguren couldn’t believe what she was hearing on the news. She kept staring at the TV screen, trying to figure out how her friend could have been killed.
“He had just posted on Facebook at 6 p.m. to participate in an activity, and a bit later, the tragedy came on the news,” Aranguren, a teacher and environmental activist, said of Oscar Eyraud Adams, an Indigenous Mexican activist and leader who was killed on Sept. 24, 2020, in Tecate, Baja California. Eyraud Adams fought for the water rights of the Indigenous Kumiai, who have been harmed by large beer and wine companies’ overuse of the region’s aquifers.
A group of armed men broke into his home and shot him dead; all they took was his cellphone and a notebook with his notes. Authorities discovered at least 13 bullet casings of various calibers at the crime scene. The case of Eyraud Adams, among many others, is chronicled in “Last Line of Defense: The Industries Causing the Climate Crisis and Attacks on Land and Environmental Defenders,” the latest report from Global Witness, an environmental rights organization that has been vocal about the rise in attacks on activists.
There were 227 deadly attacks in 2020, an increase from 2019, the deadliest year for environmental activists, with 212 murders.
The most disturbing data comes from Latin America, where 165 people were killed, accounting for three-quarters of all attacks.
Almost three out of every four attacks occurred in the region, which contains seven of the ten deadliest countries. Colombia, with 65 deaths, and Mexico, with 30, top the global list of land and environmental defenders murdered. Brazil and Honduras also have concerning figures, with 20 and 17 murders, respectively.
At least 30% of the attacks are related to resource exploitation in activities such as logging, hydroelectric dam construction, mining projects, and large-scale agribusiness.
With 23 cases recorded in countries such as Brazil, Nicaragua, Peru, and the Philippines, the logging and deforestation industry is linked to the highest number of murders in 2020. According to Global Witness, its data does not reflect “the true dimension of the problem” because restrictions on press freedom and coercive tactics such as death threats, illegal surveillance, intimidation, sexual violence, and criminalization can contribute to underreporting of assaults.
Since the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015, an average of four environmental defenders have been killed each week, according to the organization.
Colombia had the highest number of activists killed for the second year in a row, with 65 executions. According to the report, the attacks occurred “in the context of generalized attacks against human rights defenders and community leaders.” “Paramilitary and criminal groups increased their control in many of the most remote areas by using violence.” ” Almost half of the country’s homicides were committed against small-scale farmers, and one-third of the activists were Indigenous or Afro-Colombian.
The closures and quarantines made it easier to locate activists, “and that is why many of the homicides were perpetrated in their homes or in their surroundings,” Lourdes Castro, coordinator of the Somos Defensores program, told Mongabay Latam. Another concerning situation is that of Mexican activists. Global Witness recorded 30 lethal attacks in Mexico, a 67 percent increase from the previous year’s total of 18 deaths.
According to Gabriela Carreón, human rights manager at the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (Cemda), 2020 will be the most violent year for environmental activists during President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration.
Cemda had recorded 14 murders of environmental activists as of July. During López Obrador’s presidency, at least 68 human rights defenders and 43 journalists were assassinated, according to the Mexican Ministry of the Interior. In the Mexican state of Baja California, the heat kills. In Mexicali, the state capital, at least eight heat-related deaths were recorded in 2019; by 2020, the figure had risen to 83.
Eyraud Adams, the slain environmental activist, had endured the region’s scorching temperatures and scarcity of water.
In 2017, he spoke out against the installation of the Constellation Brands brewery, which, according to the company, would use approximately 1.8 billion gallons of water per year for production.