Guatemala: Another environmental activist assassinated – Murder of activist in the Maya Biosphere Reserve raises alarmPosted by Jim at Sunday, March 20, 2016
[Looks like it’s open season on environmental and indigenous rights defenders in Central America. – Des]
19 March 2016 (teleSUR) – Rights organizations in Guatemala condemned the killing of Walter Mendez Barrios, a prominent activist fighting against deforestation and hydroelectric projects in the Central American country.
Mendez, leader of the Association of Forest Communities of Peten, was found dead Wednesday on his property “with several shots” in the body, said the NGO in a statement released Friday.
“As a result of the causes he defended, he had been receiving death threats from the illegal land invaders who he had publicly denounced. In addition, it was part of the Petenero Front against Dams, which opposes the creation of hydroelectric projects in the Usumacinta River,” said the statement.
Mendez's ACOFOP is an organization that represents several communities who live in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, which lies in the north of Guatemala. It receives grants for sustainable forest development, and as a result its members actively fight against development projects that would damage the environment.
Mendez Barrios' death comes after the killing of prominent Honduran rights activist Berta Cáceres, who was shot down in her home earlier this month, causing international outrage. Nelson García, a member of the same Indigenous rights group as Caceres, was also assassinated in Honduras last week.
According to ACOFOP, the recent deaths highlight the increased repression against environmental activists in Central America.
The crimes “are the result of systematic violence suffered in Central America leaders who are struggling to defend nature, cultures and territories, threats such as large hydroelectric dams (and) field crops,” added the organization in its statement. [more]
By Sandra Cuffe
18 March 2016
(mongabay.com) – The violent death of an environmental activist and community leader in northern Guatemala two days ago has sparked consternation and concern among communities and organizations working in the Maya Biosphere Reserve.
Walter Manfredo Méndez Barrios was shot on the morning of March 16 while on his way to his plot of land inside Sierra del Lacandón National Park, one of the core zone areas of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. He died as a result of his gunshot wounds while being transported to a hospital in San Benito, the central town in the northern area of the Peten department.
Méndez Barrios was the president of the La Lucha Cooperative, one of a cluster of farming cooperatives in the southeastern part of Sierra del Lacandón National Park. Established in the late 1970s, La Lucha later also became involved in the sustainable harvest of timber and non-timber forest products. The cooperative works closely with the governmental National Council for Protected Areas (CONAP) and non-governmental organizations, including park co-administrator Defensores de la Naturaleza.
“We energetically condemn the cowardly murder of Walter Manfredo Méndez Barrios, a well-known community leader who distinguished himself as a defender of nature and a visionary of sustainable development in the Peten region, notably in the communities of the Sierra del Lacandón National Park in the Maya Biosphere Reserve,” Defensores de la Naturaleza wrote in a March 16 statement condemning the killing.
Méndez Barrios was a member of the board of directors of the Association of Forest Communities of Peten (ACOFOP), a community-based organization comprised of 24 local groups and co-operatives, including La Lucha. The 36-year-old father of six was also an active member of the Peten Front against Dams. He had been receiving threats since last year, according to media reports.
“He was shot three times,” said Salvador López, CONAP regional director for the Peten. López spoke with Mongabay in the institution’s regional office in San Benito hours after Méndez Barrios’s death on March 16. He and other officials were getting ready to go offer their condolences to Méndez Barrios’s family. Between its release from the morgue and its return to La Lucha, Méndez Barrios’s body was taken briefly to the ACOFOP office so people could pay their respects.
“He was a leader who was totally convinced that human beings can only get ahead if we protect natural resources,” said López. Reports filed by Méndez Barrios contributed to the arrest of wildlife poachers and land usurpers, according to a note published March 17 by CONAP’s executive secretariat in Guatemala City.
Police have opened an investigation into the shooting of Méndez Barrios, but López and many others believe he was killed because of his community leadership and environmental activism. The identity of his attacker or attackers — and of any powerful groups suspected to be behind the crime — remains unknown.
“He was killed by the murderous bullets that don’t want natural resources to be protected — people who are trafficking timber in the area, people who are trafficking wildlife in the area, people who are causing deforestation,” said López. [more]