The temperatures are rising and so is the body count. Every year, more and more environmental activists—many of them first peoples on the front lines of the new global resource extraction wars—are killed. In 2010, the number was 96. In 2011, 106. Last year, 116 people were murdered defending their farms, community, or livelihood in land, logging, dam, or mining disputes, according to a new report out just in time for Earth Day by Global Witness.
Two-thirds of the killings take place in Latin America, according to the report, How Many More? Brazil at 29 murders and Colombia with 25 are the highest in total numbers. But Honduras, with 12 assassinations, is the most dangerous place to be in the world for a grassroots environmentalist, in terms of per capita killings. Global Witness highlights Honduras as a case study in its report, and the chapter is well worth a read.
The 2009 Honduran coup (which was pushed by the neoconservative right in this country and eventually sanctioned by the Obama administration, with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state legitimating the putsch) was about many things, as Dana Frank and I wrote about at the time in The Nation: a reforming president, Manuel Zelaya, who apologized for the security forces’ social cleansing (that is, murder) of “delinquents”; who signaled his tolerance and support of LGBT activists; who began to make the morning-after pill legal; and who tried to raise the minimum wage.
But one of the main flashpoints of the conflict that led to Zelaya’s ouster was his efforts to regulate resource extraction, namely mining, hydro-electricity, logging, and biofuels. Central America, particularly Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, is caught in a new cycle of rural dispossession, as sweeping as the twentieth-century heyday of coffee, cotton, banana, and sugar export. Under the Wild West terms of post–Cold War “free-trade” treaties, land that might be used for subsistence farming, or to grow crops for the local market, or kept as bio-diverse forest, is being ripped up and dug into. Water is poisoned or diverted. In the midst of neoliberal abundance—with Walmarts, or Walmart-owned megastores, sprouting up in every major city—children are dying of malnutrition, as land that used to provide basic staples is put to multinational profit.