The body of an Ecuadorian indigenous leader and campaigner who opening opposed a major mining project has been found bound and buried, just days before he was due to take his plea to the UN climate talks in Lima.
The death of José Isidro Tendetza Antún – a leader of the Shuar people in Ecuador – is the latest in a string of suspicious campaigner deaths.
Tendetza had been involved in campaigning against the Mirador mine, a state-owned Chinese project threatening 450,000 acres of Ecuadorian forest, devastating both biodiversity and native communities in the region.
He had been missing since 28 November, and on Tuesday his son Jorge was finally tipped off as to the whereabouts of his father, uncovering the body – bound in blue rope – in a grave marked ‘no name’.
Domingo Ankuash, a Shuar community leader, said:
“His body was beaten, bones were broken. He had been tortured and he was thrown in the river. The mere fact that they buried him before telling us, the family, is suspicious.”
The disappearance and subsequent death of Tendetza highlights the increasing dangers faced by environmental activists in the region.
Last week, a group of Ecuadorian campaigners travelling to Lima in a ‘climate caravan’ were stopped six times by the police before their caravan was eventually confiscated. Police harrassment is becoming more commonplace, and the government is doing little to help.
In a report earlier this year, Global Witness warned “Never has it been more important to protect the environment and never has it been so deadly.”
The analysis warned that killing of people protecting the environment has increased sharply over the last decade, and that it remains an acute problem across large parts of Latin America.
In Ucayali, Peru, anti-logging activist Edwin Chota and three other indigenous leaders were murdered in September. They had received death threats from illegal loggers as a result of their campaigning, but had not received police protection despite pleas.
Last week, the widows of three of the activists took their fight to the climate talks – hosted by the Peruvian government – calling for justice for their husbands and their community.
Many blame the inaction of governments to adequately protect campaigners. Another report- ‘Peru’s Deadly Environment’- has highlighted how governments are failing to protect environmental campaigners.
Others believe that the murders and intimidations are part of a wider criminal network which continues to go unpunished.
The problem is not unique to Latin America. South East Asia is also particularly affected, although the issue is global.