Murdered because they wanted to protect the environment
The photo shows Fausto Tentorio, an Italian priest who fought against mining companies to protect the native lands of the Manobo tribe in the southern Phillippines. His murder was believed to be a revenge attack for his activism.
Environmental activists world wide - including community leaders and journalists - were being killed at a rate of one per week during 2011 alone, reports The Guardian. Today, the persecution of environmentalists is on the rise, as pro-oil corporate interests seem to prevail over ecological concerns; depleting resources are exacerbating the situation.
In the last three years altogether, say researchers, the death toll has risen considerably, particularly in Latin America and Asia. But killings, they say, have happened in at least 34 countries, and many of them were instances in which indigenous groups and landowners clashed with powerful industries and corporations, according to a report released June 19 by London-based nonprofit organization Global Witness.
Bill Kovarik, a communications professor at Virginia's Radford University, has been compiling data on the killings of environmental leaders since 1996. He remarked, "For many years, intolerant regimes tolerated environmental activists. That was the one thing you could do safely, until some crossed into the political area. Now, environmentalism has become a dangerous form of activism, and that is [a] relatively new [phenomenon]."
Among the recent deceased who sought progressive change include:
- Rev. Fausto Tentorio, an Italian priest who fought against mining companies to protect the native lands of the Manobo tribe in the southern Phillippines. His murder was believed to be a revenge attack for his activism.
- Thongnak Sawekchinda, an activist who campaigned against the pollution of coal-fired factories in his province near Bangkok, Thailand. He was gunned down by several men who were paid $10,000 to execute him.
- Two high-profile Amazon activists, Jose Claudio Ribeiro de Salva and Maria do Espirito Santo, a couple that protested and blew the whistle on illegal loggers decimating the rainforest. They, too, were gunned down.
And a particularly notable example of a more corporate attack on environmentalism came in the form of oil company Royal Dutch Shell, which conspired with the Nigerian government in committing human rights atrocities in Nigeria throughout the 90's. After the native Ogoni community was exposed to illness and disease by one oil spill after another, they led protests against Shell. The oil giant and government responded by working to gag the affected people by way of murder and torture. This culminated in the execution of journalist/environmentalist Ken-Saro Wiwa, who had made serious moves to put an end to the company's ecoterror.
Tragedies such as this occur every day, and wherever Big Oil and corporations seem to fail to silence the outcries of environmentalists, there appears to be a concentrated effort on the part of the right wing to paint environmental activists as unbalanced extremists and liberal conspiracy theorists.
This has resulted in a wave of profit-driven, corporate-backed climate change denial as Republicans and other members of the One Percent attempt to implement this strategy.
The Heartland Institute, part of the anti-science/anti-environment agenda, recently outraged many by putting up ads in which environmental activists were compared with the Unabomber. Many environmentalists responded by staging a protest at Chicago's Hilton hotel on May 22, where the Institute was meeting for a conference.
For those activists who seek positive change, many realize that it can't be properly achieved under capitalism.
"Capitalism can't think ahead; it is fundamentally incapable of dealing with climate change," said microbial ecologist Steve McCallister, a shop steward for biology professors with the American Federation of Teachers Local 3544. Oil production, he stressed, "is not going to give us energy independence." The solution is to "end this notion that corporations have the same rights as people. They have to be regulated, because the balance of ecosystems is at risk."
It would seem that until capitalism is defeated, fossil fuels and their corporations will tighten their grip, slandering and victimizing environmental activists alongside workers, people in poverty, and others who are part of the progressive movement.
"It is a well-known paradox," stated Global Witness, "that many of the world's poorest countries are home to the resources that drive the global economy. Now, as the race to secure access to these resources intensifies, it is poor people and activists who increasingly find themselves in the firing line."
This article was first published in People's World on May 23, 2011.
Author: Blake Deppe.