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Environmental Leaders Under Threat in Paraguay and Peru, Amnesty Reports

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Environmental Leaders Under Threat in Paraguay and Peru, Amnesty Reports
Activists in Peru protesting the Conga mining project. Amnesty International

Authorities in Paraguay and Peru are unjustly criminalizing activists who speak out to protect their environment and land, an Amnesty International report released Thursday revealed.

The report, A Recipe for Criminalization: Defenders of the Environment, Territory and Land in Peru and Paraguay, outlined the three "ingredients" both countries use to undermine the efforts of activists. First, they delegitimize activists through smear campaigns. Second, they apply laws and regulations that allow for forced evictions. And, third, they misuse the criminal justice system to prosecute activists for unfounded reasons.


"Those who bravely stand up to defend their land and the environment are frequently targeted because of their work. These attacks have a devastating impact on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as that of their families and communities," Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara-Rosas said in a press release.

The report included examples of how these ingredients combine on the ground.

For example, Amnesty International highlighted the case of community activists working to protect their home in Peru's Cajamarca region from the gold and copper Conga mining project. On 26 April 2013, police arrested 16 protesters on trumped up charges of abduction and coercion. The state prosecutor sought 30-year prison sentences. But the evidence presented was secondhand and so spotty and contradictory that a court dismissed the case in 2017.

In Paraguay, the Tekoha Sauce community of the Avá Guaraní People was evicted from their ancestral lands by a court order following a dispute with local businessman German Hultz. The community was forced onto a nature reserve where they struggle to survive because hunting and fishing is not allowed. During the court proceedings leading up to the eviction, their opponents stigmatized the indigenous community by referring to them as a "gang of criminals."

The report recommended that the governments of the two countries "must recognize as legitimate the work of human rights defenders working on issues related to land, territory and the environment." It also concluded that both governments should incorporate a gender- and ethnic-specific perspective to protect activists into legislation, stop abusing the justice system to prosecute environmental defenders, investigate and put a stop to all instances where the justice system is being used to harass protesters, and further investigate and prosecute anyone who is carrying out attacks on activists and land defenders.

To reach their conclusions, the Amnesty International team took two trips to Peru and one to Paraguay, and spoke with representatives of 10 human rights groups in Peru and 14 in Paraguay.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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