Marvin Diaz - Gato Encerrado
The criminalization of environmentalists and land defenders was the thematic focus of the fifth meeting of the Central American Alliance Against Mining (ACAFREMIN) in El Salvador.
During the gathering, on Nov. 13-13, environmental defenders shared their experiences in the fight against metal mining in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. According to the representatives of the more than 25 organizations who participated, the governments of the region criminalize environmental defenders who oppose extractive projects and to favor mining and other extractive companies.
Pedro Cabezas, coordinator of ACAFREMIN, explained that the purpose of the event is to discuss the criminalization faced by environmental defenders and organizations, to analyze the actions of governments that facilitate mining operations, and the environmental and social impacts generated by the industry.
"In the last three years, there has been an increase in the criminalization of environmental defenders and organizations in the region. In that regard, we must find collective solutions to defend human rights" Pedro Cabezas told GatoEncerrado.
Environmental defenders believe that the governments of their countries benefit mining projects, providing concessions to carry out work in natural conservation areas.
Since Nayib Bukele took over the presidency in El Salvador, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) has granted environmental permits to various companies, according to environmentalists in the country. The fear of activists is that the new government will grant mining exploration permits, even though there is a Law on the Prohibition of Metal Mining, approved by the Legislative Assembly in 2017. Also, environmentalists are concerned about attempts to reform the regulations to open the doors to mining companies.
At the meeting, the delegation of Honduras noted an increase in cases of violence against indigenous and peasant communities, after opposing the hydroelectric and mining industries during the government of President Juan Orlando Hernández.
In Guatemala, during the government of President Jimmy Morales, according to Guatemalan environmentalists, mining investments have been considered a priority, thus affecting the ecosystems of communities and their environment. Today, environmentalists fear that the newly elected President Alejandro Giammattei will intensify the extractivist model of the past government.
Hazel Torres, a mining officer at Centro Humboldt in Nicaragua, explained to GatoEncerrado that the country's political crisis has contributed to the evolution of concessions to the mining industry in vulnerable departments. Torres argued that the government of Daniel Ortega criminalizes defenders of communities that oppose extractive projects.
"We live in a concessionary state, where the government promotes mining with the objective of economic promotion of the territories. However, this goes hand in hand with the criminalization and violation of human rights of the inhabitants," Torres concluded.
During the meeting, taking place in the municipality of Ataco, Ahuachapán, attendees shared experiences with anti-mining activists of Peru who talked about the struggles, policies, social and environmental conflicts caused by the industry.
Translated by: Giada Ferrucci