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News > Colombia

Latam: COVID-19 Puts Imprisoned Environmental Defenders at Risk

  • Members of a community organization are transported in a van, Guatemala.

    Members of a community organization are transported in a van, Guatemala. | Photo: Twitter/ @AxSolidaridad

Published 17 April 2020

There are hundreds of Latin American leaders imprisoned for defending their communities.

The Spanish NGO Alliance for Solidarity reported that hundreds of Latin American environmental defenders who remain incarcerated are at high risk due to the pandemic.


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On the occasion of the International Day of the Farmer’s Struggle on April 17, human rights defenders recalled that, in countries such as El Salvador, Colombia, and Guatemala, there are hundreds of social leaders imprisoned for defending the rights of their communities.

Between 2012 and 2017, at least 909 legal acts were improperly forged against environmental activists, many of whom ended up incarcerated.

The Spanish NGO called the international community to improve the situation of social and environmental activists.

Specifically, the Alliance for Solidarity requested protection for the social leaders who fight against large transnational companies and their natural resources projects.

Given that social isolation measures prevent prison visits, imprisoned social activists cannot access the support they need to survive in overcrowded and unhealthy facilities.

Those convicted of the massacre of Carajas farmers are serving their sentences in freedom and have Bolsonaro's support. Of the 155 involved in the episode, only two commanders were convicted with sentences totaling more than 400 years in prison.

The Alliance recalled the case of Bernardo Caal Xol, an Indigenous leader who has been imprisoned in Guatemala since January 2018.

He was sentenced to over seven years in prison for his defense of the Oxec and Cahabon rivers, in which two large hydroelectric plants are being built.

"Physicians recommend washing your hands continuously to prevent infection. However, the Mayan Q'eqchi communities do not have water," Caal Xol recalled from prison.

"Participating in rallies, calling protests or informing communities about projects affecting natural resources are often sufficient reasons for environmental activists to be persecuted," the Alliance for Solidarity explained.

“Due to lack of legal knowledge or financial resources to hire a lawyer, social leaders can be sentenced to long terms," the human rights defenders added.​​​​​​​

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