This chapter focuses on WED killed through the presentation of around 25 women environmentalists from all continents. The cases described are placed halfway between an anecdotal approach and a systemic, exhaustive analysis. Murders of environmentalists represent the top of the pyramid of fear and violence in the repression of environmental justice activism. They are concentrated in a dozen countries while in other countries repression takes less drastic forms. There is one statistical regularity that is not socially surprising. Barring one or two suicide cases, killers were always men, sometimes policemen or the military, sometimes hitmen or gangs. Most of the time, murderers went unpunished. All murders have to do with protests regarding commodities in the economy (fossil fuels, nuclear energy, metal mining, shrimp farms, wood etc.), but to those material causes, one must add the capitalist industrial system, patriarchy, and coloniality and racism in most instances.

The death of Berta Cáceres in Honduras on 2 March 2016 brought me at 8 a.m. to the tiny consulate of that country in the Via Augusta in Barcelona. I went with some friends to complain. It also made me start this chapter collecting more cases of women environmental defenders killed (Martinez-Alier and Navas 2017). Murders of environmentalists are the most drastic and visible events in a pyramid of violence and fear that also includes the wounded, the displaced, the frightened and those silently suffering from exposure to toxic waste in instances of “slow murder”. Killings take place in some countries but not in others, where repression takes less drastic forms. They are concentrated (according to the authoritative reports from Global Witness) in Colombia, the Philippines, northern Brazil, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala which in 2020 comprised 175 of the total number of 212 environmental and land defenders killed. This is a pattern repeated year after year.

Of those victims recorded by Global Witness, roughly about one-tenth are women. This agrees with the evidence in the EJAtlas. Dalena Tran et al. (2021, 2022, 2023) have published outstanding articles on Women Environmental Defenders (WED). The cases described in this chapter are placed halfway between an anecdotal approach and a systemic, exhaustive analysis. The Women's Human Rights Defenders list published by AWID ‒ a women's rights international organization ‒ is also a good source. Global Witness’ efforts to account for environmental defenders (men and women) killed around the world deserve a place in the world press every year.

This chapter starts with the case of Gloria Capitan in the Philippines, but in Chapter 3 the deaths of Teresita Navacilla, Cheryl Ananayo and other women in this same country have been mentioned. This chapter describes the violent deaths faced in different countries by about 25 women environmentalists; I record their names and the circumstances in which they died. All were environmental activists between the ages of 16 and 60. I chose and summarized these cases that I remember well but they are merely a sample.


Resistance to coal stockpiling led to Gloria Capitan's murder in 2016 in Bataan province, Philippines. Coal production in Bataan has resulted in severe pollution of the area and the destruction of the coastline and seabed. The local population, including the villagers from Lucanin where Gloria Capitan resided, suffer from skin allergies and respiratory diseases, caused by the toxic coal ash that remains after the burning of coal in power plants.

In 2017, there were 15 coal-fired power plants operating in the Philippines and 29 more were proposed. On the planet, coal extraction grew seven times in the twentieth century and it p. 69continues to increase. We live in the “age of coal”, in the age of oil and gas, the age of hydroelectric dams and the expansion of solar and wind energy. The fight against the coal industry often unites local complaints with concern for global climate change. Sometimes, the global perspective predominates, as with the successful Ende Gelände movement in Germany, but in the case under consideration local concerns weighed more than global ones, although both were present.

Bataan is a peninsula that covers 1,373 km2 with a dense population of around 760,000. The coastal belt has lost most of the mangrove forests, and there have been numerous oil spills in Limay port. Bataan is home to two coal power plants: a 140-MW plant owned by Petron in the town of Limay and a 600-MW plant owned by Ayala and Sithe Global in the town of Mariveles. There are coal storage facilities in Mariveles. One is in Barangay Sisiman, owned by Seasia Nectar Port Services. The other is in Barangay Lucanin where Gloria Capitan resided, and it is owned by Limay Bulk and Handling Terminals and Sea Front Shipyard Port Services Inc. Aside from these facilities, expansion is well underway: 1,200 MW for GNPower Mariveles, 600 MW for San Miguel Global Power in Limay and another 1,200 MW for San Miguel in Mariveles.

Gloria Capitan opposed the construction of coal stockpile facilities as leader of the local anti-coal movement, and member of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice. She was shot dead on 1 July 2016. She was 57 years old, a grandmother, one of the leaders of the Coal-Free Bataan Movement and the President of United Citizens of Lucanin Association, a community-based organization opposing the operation and expansion of coal plants and open storage facilities in Mariveles, 60 km west from Manila. As a part of her human rights work, “Ate Glo” (as people called her) organized campaigns, filed complaints with the court, collected signatures for petitions and initiated other public actions, calling for a permanent closure of coal projects in the region. She was not a member of an Indigenous community, which makes her case different from so many others in the Philippines. The Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) believed she was killed because of her advocacy. “She had no personal enemies. It is clear that this was the biggest reason for her death”, said Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED) co-convenor Gerry Arances (Figure 4.1).

A group of people holding banners: one with a picture of Gloria Capitan, “Katarungan” and some small ones in the shape of coffins saying “coal kills”.
Figure 4.1

Coal kills, Katarungan (the Tagalog word for Justice)

Source:  Focus on the Global South

“If the murder of Gloria is a message to silence other anti-coal activists like her, then they are mistaken”, said Valentino De Guzman, from the PMCJ. “On the ground where her body fell, more anti-coal activists will sprout. Instead of silencing us, it will only strengthen our convictions”. Members of PMCJ, CEED, Sanlakas, and the Archdiocesan Movement for the Environment (AMEn) attended the emotional press conference after Gloria Capitan's death. Community partners feared that police investigating Capitan's murder were not serious about finding the culprits. Indeed, the Philippines is a hotspot for murders of environmental defenders. Gloria Capitan is perhaps the equivalent of the environmental justice movement in the Philippines to Berta Cáceres in Central America, Chico Mendes in Brazil (killed in 1988) and Ken Saro-Wiva and his companions in Nigeria (killed in 1995).


Adelinda Gómez from Almaguer lived in the Macizo Colombiano, in the Cauca region. According to Edinson Arley Bolaños. 3 “Almaguer is embedded in the heart of the Macizo Colombiano, and it is one of Cauca's and Colombia's poorest municipalities. Nonetheless, it is p. 70seated on the gold that was hidden in the mountains next to the villages of Jordán, Buenavista, Riñonada and El Tambo. Nowadays the Anglo Gold Ashanti Corporation has the concession of these areas” (Figure 4.2).

The macizo colombiano, with Almaguer to the south of La Sierra and La Vega, next to Bolívar, west of San Sebastián and Santa Rosa (Fundación del Macizo)
Figure 4.2

The macizo colombiano, with Almaguer to the south of La Sierra and La Vega, next to Bolívar, west of San Sebastián and Santa Rosa

Source:  Fundación del Macizo

The sources of the mighty Magdalena and Cauca rivers lie in the Macizo Colombiano before they head north; the Caquetá River flows east and the Patía River to the west. The whole ecosystem was designated by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve in 1990. This does not stop the exploitation of this “commodity extraction frontier” by agriculture, livestock and especially mining. Indigenous people, afro-descendants and peasants live together within this territory.

Since 2003, peasant communities of La Sierra and La Vega were concerned about the work of Carboandes S.A. in the exploration, exploitation and marketing of coal and copper. Moreover, the Mines and Energy Ministry delivered 64 mining titles in the Macizo, to which those fraudulent must be added. There was continuous presence of workers and technicians arriving in the area in vans. Defending their right to work, these miners tried to gain the communities’ goodwill by financing community parties and orchestras, giving away sportswear with Anglogold Ashanti and Carboandes logos, and promising jobs, housing projects and reforestation. On their part, communities strengthened their resistance activities, with marches for life and water and visits to other regional basins.

It was against this background that on 30 September 2013, Adelinda Gómez Gaviria was killed by two strangers in Almaguer. She was 35 years old and a mother of three children. Maybe sensing the danger, her 16-year-old stepson was with her. Two men shot Adelinda and her stepson. She died instantly while the boy was badly hurt. He recovered but could not identify the murderers. Adelinda was a housewife and made some extra money by harvesting p. 71 p. 72coffee and other agricultural jobs. Besides participating in the “Comité de Integración del Macizo Colombiano”, in February 2013 she promoted a hearing in Almaguer to denounce social and environmental impacts of mining. In Moritz Tenthoff's words, companies such as Anglo Gold Ashanti and Continental Gold had arrived together with small national companies with backhoes and dredgers, mainly from Antioquia. This was in the aftermath of military operations against left-wing insurgents.

In commemoration of Adelinda Gómez, in November 2013, the Macizo's communities organized the Caravan for the Defence of Life, Territory and Dignity. As often in Latin America, defence of the territory and of human bodies went together. According to the Network for Life and Human Rights, a month before her murder she was threatened by phone: “stop fucking up with mining; it is risky and you are going to be killed”. A public hearing was held in Almaguer involving regional authorities and over two thousand people. Santa Rosa, Almaguer, La Sierra and Bolívar communities reaffirmed their opposition to mining be it by national or foreign companies. Throughout the same days the 4th Popular Water Convention – Patía River basin, took place. The event, convened by the “Proceso Campesino y Popular de La Vega”, was a community initiative to defend water sources against the threats of mining. The Patía River basin is threatened by some 130 backhoes, mechanical excavators. “When they talk about development it usually means they want something to expropriate”, said one of La Vega peasants.


Another woman on the list was European, and she happens to be the earliest murder case in this chapter. Young environmentalist Gladys del Estal was killed by a Civil Guard's shot in the head on 3 June 1979. She was from Donostia (San Sebastián), born in Caracas in 1956 in a family of refugees from the Spanish Civil War. She had a degree in computer science. Gladys was part of the Egia ecologist group and Euskadi's Anti-Nuclear Committees. She participated in the preparation of cycling events and demonstrations against the Lemoiz nuclear plant. The crime took place in Tudela, where the young woman had come to take part in the International Day against Nuclear Energy convened by the Anti-nuclear Committees. The Civil Guard (militarized police) violently broke into Paseo del Prado, where the anti-nuclear event was peacefully celebrated. She was hit by José Martinez Salas with a gun, a Z-70 rifle. A shot sounded and Gladys fell to the road. She arrived dead at the hospital. The protest against her murder was widespread, with demonstrations and strikes throughout the Basque Country and other areas of the Spanish state.

Spain's National Energy Plan envisaged at the time a number of nuclear plants. Some were to be located on the Basque Coast and one in the Ebro River close to Tudela. The anti-nuclear movement was nourished in that region and at the time by the political and social effervescence of the Basque independence struggle. A journalist's chronicle in El País in 1980, on her first anniversary, recalls the atmosphere of those years:

On Sunday in Tudela a demonstration of around four thousand people took place. The demonstration was organised within the acts convened by the antinuclear committees of Euskadi to celebrate the international anti-nuclear day and the memory of the young Gladys, who died a year ago as a p. 73result of shots by the Civil Guard. While the demonstration ended without incident, at eleven thirty at night, Civil Guard forces withdrew the monolith placed where Gladys del Estal died. The march began in the Paseo del Prado under the slogan gogoan zaitugu (Gladys, we don’t forget you), then toured several downtown streets of Tudela, with shouts against the Iberduero company, the nuclear plants, the police and the Civil Guard. Once the demonstration reached the headquarters of the Civil Guard, there were moments of tension, as protesters intensified the shouts against the Civil Guard. After crossing the bridge over the Ebro River, protesters went to the place where Gladys fell dead. There, a stone monolith was erected with the inscription: “Gladys del Estal, murdered in Tudela for defending the sun, water and freedom. We do not forget. Gogoan zaitugu”. That monolith was taken down by the Civil Guard.

In 1982, a moratorium against the construction of nuclear power plants was enacted throughout Spain. The Tudela plant was not built. Every year and still at present, in the Basque Country the commemoration of her death takes place.


In Bangladesh, the promotion of commercial aquaculture by international banks and organizations in the 1980s led to large-scale land grabbing in the coastal districts. This transition to aquaculture was facilitated by armed representatives and strong political leaders who used sluice gates in the polders to flood the islands. Once the land was waterlogged, there wasn’t much the local communities could do, unless the local anti-shrimp groups or village committees regained control of the sluice gates to let the water out.

One famous woman was killed in the fights against shrimp farms: Karunamoyee Sardar, a woman without land of her own who defended the commons. She is remembered every year on 7 November, when a ceremony takes place at the location where she died in 1990. Many others were injured. In Horinkala, Khulna ‒ one of the largest villages of Polder 22 ‒ there is a hermitage or oratory in her memory. She appears in a painting at the head of a march against shrimp farmers.

For their leadership in the anti-shrimp campaigns, the following women and men were killed: Gobinda Dutta, in Dohuri Bhaina; Dumuria Upazilla, in Khulna (22 July, 1988); Karunamoi Sardar, in Bigordana; Paikgachha Upazilla, in Khulna (7 November, 1990); Zaber Sheikh, in Korerdon; Batiaghata Upazilla, in Khulna (21 September, 1994); Mowla Box, in Mothbati; Upazilla Paikgacha, in Khulna (1989); Zaheda Begum, in Baburabad; Upazilla Debhata, in Satkhira (27 July, 1998); Kinu Gazi, in Khoria; Upazilla Paikgachha, in Khulna (24 September, 2008).


The project of the English company Asia Energy, subsidiary of GCM Resources, in Phulbari, consisted of a coal mine and a 500 MW thermal power plant. The project would displace many people, including tribal groups. On 24 April 2006, Nasreen Huq, a 48-year-old activist who worked on ActionAid, was run over by a car in suspicious circumstances. This first death was followed by others. Three people died and hundreds were injured when a 50,000-strong p. 74demonstration was attacked by the Bangladesh Rifles on 26 August 2006. Demonstrations and repression continued in successive years until the Phulbari project seems to have been abandoned. There were also shareholder activism and demonstrations in London at the GCM headquarters.

Next to a small bag of coal, a woman writing on banners: “Alamin, Salekin, Tariqul” and “This sack of coal has killed 3 young people”.
Figure 4.3

A woman makes visible the names of the three people killed in the Phulbari shooting

Source:  Dovydas Vilimas

In this age of coal in South Asia (Roy and Schaffartzik, 2021) the company in London continued to make optimistic statements. Apart from Phulbari, there are at least two other highly controversial coal thermal power plants in Bangladesh. Rampal is located in Sundarbans, the great mangrove forest. The other plant would be located near Chittagong, where there has been a strong environmental movement and several victims against so much injustice. A recent analysis (Rahman and Hasan, 2022) concludes, in the spirit of the present book, that the locally networked resistance movement against the Phulbari Coal Project met with a formidable opposition that forced the company to halt the project and leave the country.

The success of the protest was amplified by shows of solidarity from international environmental justice movements … mobilization of movements and protests like this signify a global arcade of networked activism against… extractivism. Drawing from interviews and qualitative digital media content analysis, we identify common themes, similarities with global appeals and vocabularies, and the communicative architecture of the movements, including their digital turn. We pay attention to how local voices were picked up by national and transnational alliances. Although deeply situated in local cultures, the Phulbari movement shows that anti-extractivism has become a digitally networked and globally circulated cause.p. 75


The Bangkok Post reported on 5 June 2014, that more than 30 environmental and human rights defenders had been killed in Thailand since 2002 according to Human Rights Watch. Nevertheless, only about one-fifth of the total number had judicial consequences. One of these murders, on 11 February 2015, was that of Chai Bunthonglek, an activist over the age of 70 who fought a company that usurped land from the community of Khlong Sai Pattana for plantation purposes. He was a member of the Peasant Federation of South Thailand, in Chaiburi district, Surat Thani Province. In 2010, Somporn Pattanabhumi was also killed. On 19 November 2012, Montha Chukaew and Pranee Boonrat, two women in their fifties, from the same organization, were attacked and killed while going to the district's market by motorcycle. Several UN rapporteurs reported the deaths as also Human Rights Watch, Thailand's Assembly of the Poor and many other organizations.

The local population lives in fear. Khlong Sai Pattana community maintains a long-standing dispute with Jiew Kang Jue Pattana, a palm oil company. As is often the case, the government supports the company. Attempts were made to take the company to court for land theft, and the community received the Supreme Court's support in 2007. However, the Land Reform Office not only failed to execute the court decision but supported the displacement of landless peasants belonging to the Peasant Federation of South Thailand. Meanwhile, the Jiew Kang Jue Pattana company brought lawsuits against the Federation


El Desconcierto recounts that Macarena, a 32-year-old mother of four children, had the dream of leaving the polluted city of Santiago to head South. Three years before she died, she fulfilled this dream and went to live in the Newen-Tranguil community, in Liquiñe, with her partner Rubén Collío. She had specialized in environmental issues. Rubén was an environmental engineer. Together they were trying ways of teaching people about environmental problems. Macarena had quickly emerged as a leader for the defence of the territory and people's health.

Tranguil is a small Andean town which, with the consent of the regional authorities, had been “invaded” by RP Global, a company of Austrian, Spanish and Chilean capitalists that builds “small hydroelectric power plants” and wind energy “parks”, violating collective rights and the ILO Convention 169. On 1 August 2016, Macarena Valdés spent the whole day in a road blockade to prevent RP Global from installing high-voltage cables. At 4 p.m., the Governor of Valdivia asked the community to attend a meeting to review the situation and ordered the company by phone to leave the land. The meeting was held on August 19 but the government gave excuses, raised general questions and extended the deadline.

Mapuexpress, a counter-information net, published on its website that on 21 August 2016, two envoys of the company arrived at the premises of Mónica Painemilla, who was housing Macarena Valdés and Rubén Collío. She had not given authorization to carry out work on her land. The envoys told Painemilla to throw Rubén Collío and his family onto the street. On the afternoon of 22 August 2016, one day later, Macarena Valdés appeared dead at home. That same noon, while Rubén had gone to remove Macarena's body, RP Global arrived again to p. 76insist on the installation of the high-voltage cables. The company was escorted by members of the GOPE, Carabineros de Chile Special Forces, with armoured vehicles. People of the community resisted with more anger and grief than before. There were pushes and police violence. At 1 p.m., the governor ordered the company to leave the land again. That night, Macarena's wake was held. Rubén Collío suspected that she was murdered. In Valdivia, he filed a criminal complaint against those responsible for her death. Although her death was officially registered as suicide, some physicians such as Luis Ravanal questioned the autopsy. He was interviewed by the journal El Desconcierto and argued against the diagnosis of death by hanging. He added: “a corpse can also be hanged. The autopsy report does not describe vital injuries to the neck which would demonstrate that a person died from that injury”. On 25 August, her funeral took place.

On 13 October 2016, the company came back, this time with even more police armoured cars, and managed to install the high voltage cables violating the laws and political agreements with the authorities. In January 2017, despite the complaints, it became clear that the Environmental Evaluation Service (SEA) was not taking into consideration the impact that Indigenous communities would suffer from the installation of the Tranguil plant. The coordination unit “Justicia para Macarena Valdés”, composed of Indigenous and rural communities of Panguipulli, delivered a letter to the SEA demanding investigation of the Tranguil project. Rubén Collio, a Mapuche activist, died in a car accident in 2022.


El Escobal mining project is located in Santa Rosa and Jalapa departments. In 2010, Tahoe Resources Inc. bought from Gold Corp. (both Canadian) the silver, gold, lead and zinc exploration and exploitation licences. The “Comité Defensor del Pueblo de San Rafael Las Flores” (active since 2010) together with the “Colectivo Madre Selva” opposed the environmental impact study. They argued the Xinca Indigenous population was not consulted, and possible damages to water sources, territory and people's health were not taken into account. Protests, sit-ins and demonstrations were organized, and people were injured by rubber bullets. The community consultations carried out completely rejected the project.

During one of the demonstrations, on 27 April 2013, an attack against community activists left several seriously injured, and Merilyn Topacio Reynoso died. She was a 16-year-old from the Youth Movement of Mataquescuintla (MJM). To suppress the protest, the military presence and even the declaration of state of siege were used. In 2013, after many appeals filed against the mine, the Appeals Chamber of Guatemala declared “the immediate suspension of the license”. The legal advice of CALAS (Centro de Acción Legal, Ambiental y Social de Guatemala) was valuable to reach this result.

However, the project was reactivated a few months later and came into operation in 2014. The CALAS group's main lawyer was subjected to death threats. After demonstrations and attacks on the facilities, the Grupo Golan, a “private security” company, was hired to counter the activists. Telesforo Odilio Pivaral González, a 33-year-old farmer, was murdered in April 2015. In January 2017, Laura Leonor Vásquez Pineda was shot in the head. Aged 47, she was in charge of two grandchildren and ran a small business on her property. Both were members of the “Comité Local en Defensa de la Vida de San Rafael Las Flores”. In 2018, Ronal David p. 77Barillas Díaz was also killed for defending the rights of the Xinca people and the mining project consultation. The story goes on. After 2019, the mine owner became PanAmerican Silver (Canadian). 10


Jeannette Kawas defended a conservation area as well as the protection of Garífunas living in the area (an Afro-Indigenous population). A national park in Honduras formerly known as Punta Sal now bears her name. She chaired PROLANSATE (Fundación para la Protección de Lancetilla, Punta Sal, Punta Izopo and Texiguat), an organization preventing oil palm crops and other threats to an area already included in the Ramsar Convention for the protection of Wetlands named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where it was signed in 1971.

She was from Tela, in northern Honduras, close to Punta Sal. Though she was a professional accountant, her value theory went beyond the usual company's profit and loss account. She placed a non-economic value on Punta Sal's forests, rivers, beaches and mangroves. Cattle farmers, tourist investors, timber merchants… everyone wanted a slice of that beautiful landscape. Kawas promoted PROLANSATE, and, in 1994, she convinced the government to declare that area a national park. She was practising what could be called “convivial conservationism” bringing the local population into action against threats from firewood, overfishing, sugar refineries, palm oil factories and waste from aquaculture, as well as ranchers and hunters inside the park. On 6 February 1995, at 7.30 p.m., Jeannette was shot dead in her house. After her murder, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) stated that her death was caused by her environmental work with PROLANSATE around Bahía de Tela in the Atlántida Department, improving people's life, denouncing the attempt to privately appropriate Punta Sal, as well as pointing out the pollution of lakes and deforestation. There are 1,500 Garífunas in the area carrying out small-scale fishing, and the park's norms protect their lands and lives.


In Honduras, a more recent and well-known death was that of Berta Cáceres, leader of both Indigenous and environmentalist movements. Her death had global resonance. When she died, Gustavo Castro (from “Otros Mundos”, an organization in Chiapas, Mexico) was with her. He survived and told the press what happened. The attempt to attribute Berta's death to internal fights within her organization failed. The financing of the Agua Zarca dam by European banks was eventually withdrawn.

On 24 August 2009 ‒ during the post-coup de facto regime ‒ the Law on Water and the Decree 233 were approved. The former grants concessions on water resources, while the latter repeals the previous decrees that prohibited hydroelectric projects in protected areas. The territory of Lenca people was one of the most affected by the construction of 17 dams, many of which have received funds from CDM (the climate change so-called “clean development mechanism”). Between the years 2010‒13, the construction of the Aguas Zarca Hydroelectric Project was approved. It is located in the northwestern zone of Honduras, between the p. 78departments of Santa Bárbara and Intibucá and a few kilometres away from the Montaña Verde Wildlife Reserve. This small project aimed to generate 21.3 MW through a 20-year concession of the Gualcarque River, a river sacred for the Lenca including the space where the spirits of the Indigenous youth live and is a legacy of the Cacique Lempira, who fought in defence of these territories against the Spaniards during colonization.

In 2012, the Inter-American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) granted the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) a loan of US$ 24.4 million for the construction and installation of the project. DESA, in turn, subcontracted the Chinese company Sinohydro, accused by local communities of invading their lands without prior consultation. It also contracted the German company Voith Hydro Holding for the construction of turbines. Due to the increased conflict, Sinohydro withdrew. In the December 2013 Evaluation Report, the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman of the World Bank's Finance Corporation (IFC) noted that the IFC should stop financing the project. In 2011, the government authorities and the DESA group had entered the territory to persuade the local population to accept the hydroelectric plant. Despite their rejection, the works began and the Lenca argued violations of the ILO Convention 169 (signed by Honduras in 1995) since a prior and informed consultation did not take place. Those leaders who opposed the project were threatened, prosecuted and killed as happened with Tomás García and Berta Cáceres, both of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras. She was known for her long-lasting activism and for having received the Goldman Prize. Since 2013, the Lenca were prohibited from using water from the river. The same year, from April 1, a mobilization and blockade took place to close the road, demanding the withdrawal of all types of machinery. After the murder of Berta Cáceres on 2 March 2016, criminalization of protest and threats against those who oppose the dispossession of lands continued. Furthermore, other dams threatened Lenca territory.


Betty Cariño was internationally well-known at the time of her death in 2010. “Tiny, dismayed but strong, wearing their black and red huipiles, Triqui women loaded the brown coffin by relays […] to the cemetery of her hometown Chila de las Flores in the state of Puebla”, wrote emotionally Luis Hernández Navarro in La Jornada. As well as a human rights and environmental activist, she was the director of CACTUS (Centro de Apoyo Comunitario Trabajando Unidos), a community organization in Oaxaca. On 27 April 2010, her caravan was ambushed by paramilitaries. They brought supplies to the autonomous Indigenous Triqui community of San Juan Copala, a place of about 700 inhabitants. Jyri Jaakkola, an activist from Finland, also died in the attack and over ten people were injured.

Betty Cariño was an advocate of food and water sovereignty, and the right to autonomy of Indigenous peoples in Mexico. She was born to a family of Mixtec Indigenous peasants, attended primary and secondary schools in Chila de las Flores, high school in Huajuapan de León, and became a teacher of primary education at the “Normal del Divino Pastor” in Tehuacán. Cariño worked actively in the Valley of Tehuacán for communities affected by poultry industrial farms and denim factories polluting their water. She organized women p. 79vendors of tortillas, promoted the formation of savings banks, developed solidarity economy projects, founded centres to support migrants and delivered reproductive health programmes. In 2000, she moved to her native land. She was linked to the fight against the high rates of the Federal Electricity Commission, for the dismissal of the governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz, and to resistance to dams; for the self-determination of peoples, the promotion of Indigenous community radio stations and the support for the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala. She also participated in the Frente Amplio Opositor a la Minera San Xavier. Just before heading to the San Juan Copala community, Betty Cariño had been at the Second National Meeting of the Red Mexicana de Afectados por la Minería (REMA), of which she was a member, in Cerro San Pedro (Studnicki-Gizbert 2022). Since November 2009, she also participated in the lawsuit for the murder in November 2009 of Mariano Abarca, leader of REMA in Chiapas and leader of the Chicomuselo resistance to the Canadian company Blackfire.

On 10 February 2010, during a meeting of human rights defenders in Dublin, Betty Cariño denounced Free Trade Agreements, the plundering of natural resources and the neo-colonization of the Latin American countries: “The long night of the 500 years has not yet ended: now La Niña, La Pinta and La Santa María are called Iberdrola, Endesa and Gamesa”.


Fabiola Osorio Bernáldez was an environmentalist fighting against the construction of a dock by the Profepa to attract tourism in the very violent area of Guerrero. The dock was located in the lagoon Coyuca de Benítez, inside a mangrove forest in the town of Pie de la Cuesta, in the tourist municipality of Acapulco. “We lack proof. But Fabiola was a thorn in the flesh to the State Government”, stated a representative of Guerreros Verdes, an association to which the killed environmentalist was linked. The spokesperson acknowledged that the members of Guerreros Verdes were frightened. Pie de la Cuesta dock's work was announced in October 2011. After a month, the work stopped at the Guerreros Verdes’ own initiative. However, Fabiola denounced that the company was continuing with the work. In fact, she argued that over 5,000 metres of mangrove had already been filled in. Profepa attended to the complaint and closed down the construction because it lacked the Environmental Impact Manifestation (MIA) to be issued by the Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Semarnat). Five days later, after depositing a bond, the company resumed the work. In January 2012, Fabiola Osorio had begun a legal process in order to defend the concession on the mangrove she inherited from her mother. Five months later, on 31 May, she was shot dead at her home in Pie de la Cuesta along with another woman. The murder alerted 20 environmental organizations around the world demanding investigation of the crime. It also caused the IACHR to demand that the government investigate the crime.

Juventina Villa Mojica was also murdered in Guerrero. Her murder had a different social background. According to Greenpeace, the satellite images taken between 1992 and 2000 in 18 locations of the Petatlán mountain range and Coyuca de Catalán showed the loss of 86,000 ha of forest out of 226,203, due to excessive logging practised by the talamontes (as Mexicans call illegal loggers). In 1998, a group of peasants who had been fighting for years created the Organización de Campesinos Ecologistas de la Sierra de Petatlán y Coyuca de Catalán. Rodolfo Montiel Flores, along with Teodoro Cabrera, led this peasants’ organization of 24 ejidos against the Costa Grande Forest Product, subsidiary of the company Boise Cascade. They demanded that local and federal environmental protection authorities take p. 80action and subsequently ran the so-called “wood strikes”, community roadblocks. Later on, Boise Cascade company had to retire. After being imprisoned for several years, Montiel and Cabrera received the Goldman Prize in 2000. Juventina Villa was part of the same environmental peasants’ organization.

For several decades now, the Sierra de Petatlán has witnessed an important mobilization of peasants with an environmental profile. It is not easy to carry out a fight of this kind in this place: guerrillas, “white guards”, armed soldiers and drug trafficking proliferate along with talamonte chieftains. In November 2012, 45 families of La Laguna were getting ready to travel back to the community of Puerto de las Ollas where they hoped to take refuge from paramilitaries and talamontes. La Laguna's families’ first displacement took place in February 2011, after Rubén Santana Alonso, Juventina's husband, was murdered. Although the government agreed to meet the needs of those affected by violence, no care was given and families returned to La Laguna to work their lands and herd cattle. On 28 November 2012, a new transfer was agreed to Puerto de las Ollas, with the state police guard. That day, Juventina Villa and Reynaldo Santana Villa, her 17-year-old son, were killed. One of her daughters was saved.


In January 2018, Lupita Campanur Tapia was also assassinated in Chilchota's outskirts, in the state of Michoacán. She was a young activist in the struggle for the restitution of Cherán communal territory. Carolina Lunuen, friend and companion of the victim, wrote: “Her femicide hurts personally, communally and on a global scale. It is not just another crime against a woman. As a founding member of the Ronda Comunitaria, the grassroots ranger body, and as an active participant in the community, her absence affects us deeply”.

Cherán has become a famous Indigenous community with a communal forest territory located on the Meseta Purépecha. Their forest has been historically exploited; the indiscriminate felling and the fires destroyed 20,000 ha of the 27,000 that belong to Cherán community. The conflict intensified when in 2008, Roberto Bautista of the PRI political party assumed the municipality's presidency. He had the support of the drug-trafficking “Familia Michoacana” in exchange for the extraction of wood. During Roberto Bautista's administration, violence, extortion and evictions increased. The community's livelihoods were destroyed and increasing timber extraction took place along with murders and disappearances of those who opposed clandestine logging. To this must be added the environmental consequences that directly affected the survival of the community such as the decrease of springs and aquifers, disappearance of animals (deer, foxes, squirrels, birds, etc.) and plants, including medicinal ones.

The Meseta Purépecha, including the forests of Cherán, is an aquifer recharge zone and a water catchment area. Deforestation worsens water shortage. The population of Cherán demanded the intervention of the municipal authorities, without achieving results. They then asked the state and federal government for help but their requests were ignored. As dissent and discontent grew, on 15 April 2011, a conflict broke out. The talamontes were extracting wood in the area where La Cofradía spring is, a place with cultural and environmental value from which the community and 40 other municipalities of the Meseta Purépecha are supplied. The women stopped the trucks loaded with wood and a confrontation between the talamontes and the community took place. Two people were killed. After this time, the Cherán community decided to organize itself to protect the forests, the water and their territory, their p. 81livelihoods and their own life by means of self-defence and community projects such as a nursery where they grow seedlings for reforestation. Between 2011 and 2015, 3,500 ha were reforested. In addition, they set up sawmills, brickyards, carpentry, a resin factory, a rainwater collection system for the supply of drinking water to the people, among others. They also managed “Radio Fogata”, an independent radio coordinated by young people. Besides, they got recognition of “custom and habits” governance from the government allowing them to exercise their right to self-determination. The case of the Cherán community is seen as a triumph for environmental justice. However, they are still threatened, as the assassination of Lupita Campanur shows.


The Sierra Tarahumara has become a grave for environmental defenders in rarámuri territory. Otilia Martínez Cruz was a 60-year-old WED who worked to defend her ancestral territory against the threats of illegal logging and mining. She was killed in early May 2019 along with her 20-year-old son, Gregorio Chaparro, in the community of Coloradas de la Virgen, Chihuahua. Her relative, Julián Carrillo, Indigenous community leader and environmental defender, was killed in October 2018. He had started a legal case filed by the community against forest harvesting permits, which the Semarnat had granted to mestizo settlers in the Indigenous territory of Baborigame. The area is dominated by drug traffickers and talamontes. From 2013 to 2019, at least another ten Indigenous defenders of forests were killed in Baborigame because of their opposition to criminal bands that illegally cut the forests. The men apparently responsible for the killing of Julián Carrillo and also, a few years earlier, Juan Ontiveros and Isidro Baldenegro (a Goldman Prize holder) were brought to justice, but killings continue and the population is migrating to other areas. The Alianza Sierra Madre is an organization helping the victims seeking environmental and agrarian justice. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Peace Brigades International expressed grave concern over the violence against land and territory defenders in the Sierra Tarahumara over the past few years (Chapter 18).


Nicinha, a Leader of MAB against the Jirau Dam, Rondônia 13

Her name was Nilce de Souza Magalhaes and her nickname Nicinha (Figure 4.4). She died in 2016 for defending fishermen and people displaced by the Jirau dam. In 2011, the ribeirinha fisherfolk community of Mutum Paraná ‒ upstream of Porto Velho City on the Madeira River next to Abuna almost at the border with Bolivia ‒ was displaced by the flooding of Jirau's hydroelectric dam. The dam is owned by Energia Sustentável do Brasil (ESBR) – meaning “sustainable energy of Brazil”. The community was relocated to a place baptized as Nova Mutum Paraná, a housing project for six thousand displaced inhabitants. That process did not work well because many houses were traded for money in favour of other people. Faced with this precarious situation, a group of affected families occupied empty houses in Nova Mutum Paraná in 2014. The neighbourhood, which already suffered from stagnated waters and lack p. 82of drinking water, was submerged by the Madeira River in 2014 in a terrible flood. In this context, Nilce de Souza Magalhães became a local leader of the MAB, the Brazilian movement of atingidos por barragens, those affected by dams.

Nicinha had arrived in Porto Velho, the capital of the state of Rondônia, 50 years earlier, a young girl from a family of seringueiros from Acre. With two colleagues, Lurdilane Gomes da Silva and Iza Cristina Bello (Índia), she formed a commission to defend the occupation of homes by the displaced. With the help of the public prosecutor of Rondônia, some local politicians and the MAB itself, they faced the hydropower company defending the rights of the families. For some years, with the help of fisherfolk's leaders, they also denounced the impacts of the dam on fishing in the Madeira River. This motivated the state and federal agencies to investigate the faulty implementation of the state programme to support fishing and the official manipulation of fishing data.

Nicinha disappeared on 7 January 2016. Six months later, on June 21 her body was found near the place where she lived as a refugee. She was submerged in the lake formed by Jirau dam, with hands and feet tied, kept down by the weight of a stone. It took another six months to confirm officially by DNA that this was her corpse. One year later, on 22 December 2006, MAB, other organizations and Nicinha's family organized a political event together in the Santo Antônio chapel on the Madeira River. Dom Roque, Porto Velho's archbishop, celebrated the funeral.

Nilce de Souza Magalhaes sitting in a hammock.
Figure 4.4

Nicinha, a leader of MAB, Brazil

Source:  MAB/Divulgação

The trial of the two people accused of killing Nicinha, Edione Pessoa da Silva and Leonardo Batista da Silva, ought to have happened on 7 December 2016. It was postponed at the request of the defence because an examination by an expert was incorporated into the file only one p. 83day before the trial. Meanwhile, the threats against Ludma and Índia intensified and a request for protection was made to the Human Rights programme. MAB argued that this crime was not an isolated one. Within Rondônia State, over 17 people involved in environmental and land conflicts died in 2016, and many others received death or imprisonment threats. According to João Marcos Dutra, the IIRSA infrastructure is being built and two more hydroelectric plants are planned.

Maria do Espírito Santo against Deforestation in Pará 14

Maria do Espírito Santo and José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva (Zé Claudio) fought for years against deforestation and degradation of the chestnut forest in Pará. Their struggle meant their death on 24 May 2011. Marabá is at the heart of the deforestation frontier in the state of Pará. Loggers and ranchers are responsible for the indiscriminate tree-cutting. In Nova Ipixuna, close to Marabá, efforts were made to establish a sustainable agro-extractive reserve (the word “extractivism” is used here as in Chico Mendes’ “extractive reserves”). The forests of Brazil nuts, castanha-do-pará (Bertholletia excelsa) should be preserved. Many products can be extracted sustainably from these forests, like the chestnut itself from which oil can be obtained. Zé Cláudio and Maria do Espírito Santo led the Praia Alta Piranheira reserve's project. They tried to stop the grileiros (land grabbers) from stealing the land. María was also part of the Conselho Nacional das Populações Extrativistas. She had a university degree. They were ambushed near their house and shot dead despite the alert the police got about the threats to which they were subjected by loggers and cattle ranchers. In November 2010, at a conference, Zé Claudio himself said that he would be killed for his fight against deforestation. They died inside the Praia Alta Piranheira reserve where they had worked for 24 years.

These killings occurred at the time in which amendments to the country's forest protection laws were passed in Congress. These amendments were to weaken existing environmental controls and could therefore lead to an intensification of existing disputes. A speaker opposed to the reform referring to the news just received increased their impact. According to the Comissão Pastoral da Terra ‒ CPT (Pastoral Land Commission, a religious organization that supports land and environment defenders, small farmers, priests and other rural workers), since 1988 and until 2011 more than 1,150 land and environmental rights defenders, small farmers, judges, priests and other rural workers had been killed in disputes over preserving land. The murders are mostly carried out by gunmen hired by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence protests over the illegal cutting of trees. Although in that Amazon frontier environment and human rights defenders are often murdered with impunity, in this case both the gunmen and the landowner who ordered the crime were sentenced to long prison terms in two trials in 2013 and 2016.

Dorothy Stang against Deforestation 15

In Pará, not far away, the nun Dorothy Stang was killed on 14 February 2006. The wave of murders aims to eliminate those who oppose logging. Deforested lands are used for livestock and also to plant soybeans. In the words of another nun,

Dorothy arrived in the Amazon after the government handed over land to the immigrant peasants to settle the area once the Trans-Amazonian highway was opened. She thought the Catholic Church should give spiritual and material support to people. During the 1980’s, loggers and ranchers already p. 84arrived in the area and seized the land given to the peasants who, without titles, could not defend themselves. During all those years, Sister Dorothy tried to get the federal and the State governments to protect the peasants.

Her murder happened close to Anapu, a small town east of Altamira, in the heart of rural violence in Pará. By 2015, Anapu's population was estimated at 25,000, a border city in Trans-Amazonian highway. Even though Dorothy knew that her life was in danger, she went to the country's capital, Brasilia, to testify to the Congress research committee on deforestation in 2004. She named the timber companies working in public lands in her region. Environmental organizations estimated that around 90 per cent of Pará's timber exports were illegal. Loggers described her as a terrorist and accused her of giving arms to peasants. She and other local leaders received death threats. However, she refused to leave and continued to work with peasants and landless in the Buena Esperanza project.

Since 1982, she had worked in Anapu for the CPT with a small group of nuns. The CPT was created by Brazilian bishops in 1975 in response to the increase in violence within the Amazon region. Land grabbers, grileiros, hired gunmen to eliminate the peasants. Dorothy Stang had been born in Dayton, Ohio. By 1948, aged 17, she joined the “Sisters of Our Lady of Namur”. In 1966 she was sent as a missionary to Brazil when Liberation Theology was bursting in Latin America. Many priests and nuns went to live in urban slums or in rural communities with the poor and dispossessed. Dorothy was one of them. Like other CPT members, she knew her life was threatened, although being a nun was a protection. Her murder in 2006 was compared to that of Chico Mendes in 1988. Pará's environmental activists thought that the national and international wave of attention to Dorothy Stang's death would help stop the endemic impunity. Nonetheless, ten years later CPT documented that, since 2005, there had been 118 deaths due to land conflicts in Pará. For every death, there are many other cases of wounded, violent expulsion, threats and other physical violence. The judicial sentences for the death of Dorothy Stang included the young gunmen who killed her and also the mandante (someone who orders a hit). Of over one thousand rural murder cases documented by CPT between 1985 and 2013, less than 10 per cent went to court.


The deaths of Felicita Cherres (45 years old) and Maria Choque (63 years old) had something in common. They were violent deaths: in one case, at the hands of land-grabbing goons, in the other one, by the police in a large demonstration of Aymara peasants in Puno.

The Chaparri Ecological Reserve was the first private conservation area under peasant management. It is managed by the Muchik community of Santa Catalina de Chongoyape. The Muchik are a pre-Inca people whose descendants still inhabit the northern coast of Peru. Under the initiative of National Geographic photographer Heinz Plenge and the president of the community in 1998, the reserve was officially created in 2001 with the aim of safeguarding the dry forest and endangered species such as the Andean bear and the condor. But the Regional Government of Lambayeque and the Ministry of Agriculture were planning to build La Monteria water dam. In May 2017, an entourage made up of SERFOR, the environmental police, the photographers and brothers Plenge, and other people who were to inspect the damage to the reserve, were attacked by a group of 30 people. Most residents of the community were opposed to the dam, but some of them were in favour of it. As members of the p. 85board, they had falsified documents. This was denounced by Juan Carrasco, president of the Salvemos Chaparrí Defense Front. The illegal board of directors led by Lazaro Rodas was selling land to fake farmers who resold it to the La Monteria project; the number of farmers had increased from 325 to 900 in just three years. The project was being built by Queiroz Galvao, a company linked to the Brazilian corruption scandal Lava Jato and to the Odebrecht and Camargo Correa companies.

Felicita Cherres Garrido, Irineo Martínez Purihuamán (41) and José Jesús Guerrero Becerra (42) were shot dead in the district of Salas, in Lambayeque, on 1 October 2016. The suspect, Jorge Cruzado, was later arrested in Yaipón, Chongoyape, when the police were conducting an operation against land trafficking. They were from the peasant community of St Francis of Assisi. They had spent the night at the site on the day of the attack to prevent invaders from breaking into the property again. Invaders had been evicted by police officers days before the attack and promised to take revenge. A year and a half later, it was reported that the population of Chaparri-Chongoyape lived in fear after the death of Lieutenant Governor of the community, Napoleon Tarrillo Astonitas, on 30 September 2017. The president of the Rondas Campesinas, Humberto Gonzáles Nuñez, said that the community members were afraid because strangers continued to invade the conservation area. Even the president of the Judicial Branch, Duberlí Rodriguez, and congresswoman Maria Elena Foronda received death threats for intervening in favour of the reserve, which is also threatened by local mining and fires.


María Choque died at the hands of the police in 2011 in a protest against the Santa Ana mining project located in the Puno region of southern Peru, near the border with Bolivia. It is an open-pit mine for the extraction of 63.2 million ounces of silver for an 11-year period of mining. It was promoted in 2004 by the Canadian Bear Creek Mining Company, which obtained the rights to the mining concession between 2006 and 2007. The company was scheduled to start operating in 2012. In February 2011, the Environmental Impact Study was to be presented to the population of Huacullani. A group of community members called Propuesta Ciudadana opposed the project, fearing contamination of rivers and lakes (Lake Tititaca), the overlapping of the mining concession with nature reserves of socio-cultural value (Aimara Lupaca), and the fact that this open-pit mine contradicted Article 71 of the Peruvian Constitution, which prohibits mining exploration in border areas. Another argument was that the EIA was written in technical terminology in English, untranslated into Aymara language.

The social leaders of the affected areas met under the Front of Defence of Natural Resources of the South Zone of Puno. Between the months of May and June 2011, the largest mobilization of the population occurred through marches in the Puno region and in Lima. There were also stoppages and blockades in the Desaguadero international bridge between Peru and Bolivia. On 26 April 2011, it was reported that social protests during the 48-hour strike against the Santa Ana mining project left one person dead and several injured in the Kelluyo district. The victim was identified as María Choque Limachi, unable to breathe after the impact of a tear gas bomb. This occurred when hundreds of peasants in the area occupied the Yoroco bridge. About 60 policemen threw tear gas bombs, triggering a confrontation between comuneros and police. The inhabitants remained in the place and kept under their guard the wounded body of María Choque Limachi, who unfortunately died two days later.p. 86

In June 2011, there were other anti-mining protests and more deaths in Puno. This made President Alan García repeal the D.S.083-2007-EM granting a concession to the Santa Ana mining project, prohibiting mining activities in Huacullani and Kelluyo. However, the mining company appealed and said it would finally abide by international arbitration to defend its rights. In 2014, it filed the case against the Peruvian State requesting the reactivation of the project:

Bear Creek Mining remains open to the prospect that an amicable resolution of issues surrounding the Santa Ana project can be achieved. While Bear Creek Mining is willing to re-engage in settlement negotiations with the Peruvian government, the Company is currently pursuing an international arbitration proceeding against the Republic of Peru under the Canada-Peru FTA before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington D.C. In the arbitration proceeding, Bear Creek seeks full reparation resulting from, among other things, the expropriation of the Santa Ana project and Peru's violations of the TPA and international law.

Bear Creek won the appeal in Peru and then also the arbitration decision at the ICSID, Washington D.C.

In other words, in a country like Peru, there is the internal coloniality of state and police power (killing with impunity), as well as the coloniality of technical knowledge in the obfuscation regarding the risks of mining. Moreover, there is also international coloniality and what the US “environmental justice” movement of the 1980s called “environmental racism”.


Welspun's proposed coal-fired power plant (CFPP) at Katni was in the eye of the storm for several years and triggered mass protests over alleged forced acquisition of agricultural land with the help of local officials. Tribals and Dalits took part in the protests. In November 2012, twenty farmers in Bujbuja village (Katni District, Madhya Pradesh) did something really extraordinary. They sat every day on funeral pyres with kerosene and match sticks at arm's reach to protest the acquisition of land for the Katni power station to be built by Welspun Energy (3 x 660 MW CFPP) on 180 ha of land. Katni district villager Sunia Bai died after she set herself on fire on Diwali day, in protest over land grabbing for the plant. She was 50 years old and committed suicide allegedly after notice was sent to her husband for vacating their land. Following the self-immolation, police responded to a protest by residents of Bujbuja and Dakaria villages with a lathi charge, seizing her body. According to villagers, the police had threatened to bulldoze the home of Sunia Bai and her husband Chhaka Gadari. In addition, police arrested 12 villagers as well as a member of the legislative assembly and Janata Dal party, Saroj Bachchan Nayak. Protesters demanded that land acquired for the project be returned to farmers, built further funeral pyres on their land and warned that they would immolate themselves if forcibly evicted. Two days later, a 30-year-old Dalit man tried to follow Sunia's suit by consuming some poisonous substance at Dukariya village. This village remained on the boil and witnessed police cane charges and more than six arrests. 18 Police resorted to cane charge after the villagers of Dukariya protesting with Sunia's body refused to part with it for cremation.p. 87


One year earlier, an activist nun who fought Indian coal-mining companies was brutally murdered in Jharkhand. Sister Valsa John was beaten to death, allegedly by individuals hired by coal-mining companies but possibly also because of her defence of a rape victim. She was involved in the movement against displacement of tribal Santhal people, the Rajmahal Pahar Bachao Andolan, and in the campaign against the Panem Coal Company. She was reported to have gone on numerous occasions to the police after threats were made to her life. The following was written following her death:

She was one of the remarkable breeds of Indian religious figures who are grassroots social activists, who immerse themselves in the most marginalized and impoverished communities and work on literacy, basic health care and human rights. Sister Valsa said she did Jesus's work by teaching the aboriginal people – adivasi or “tribals” – about their rights to their land.


When the social metabolism grows and changes, ecological conflicts arise as well as protests. Repression comes down upon those who protest, sometimes in the form of extreme violence. Let's now pay tribute to the small sample of WED who were killed. They often belonged to or fought for Indigenous groups (Aymara, Lenca, Santhal, Purépecha, etc.). Other WEDs killed appear elsewhere in this book, for instance Fikile Ntshangase in South Africa in 2020 (Chapter 16). On 12 March 2021, the EJAtlas registered the death of Asháninka leader Estela Casanto, killed after many threats because of her defence of Indigenous land rights in Peru. This is one more instance of the Indigenous revival and resistance which is the topic of Chapter 25 of the present book.

The environmental resistance and the fierce repression against popular ecologists ‒which also extends to conservationists (such as Fabiola Osorio, Jeanette Kawas and Felicita Cherres) ‒ are intimately linked to changes and growth of social metabolism leading to the usurpation of land, forests, wetlands and water; open cast mining; timber extraction; soy, palm oil and eucalyptus plantations. Even if they do not appear in this chapter, there have undoubtedly been many women victims protesting against landfills or garbage incinerators and against oil and gas extraction. Over many decades, in the Ogoni and Ijaw struggles against Shell and other companies in the Niger Delta, many unnamed women were victimized (Tran and Hanaček, 2023).

These women did not see themselves as professional ecofeminists. They were human beings very much concerned with social and environmental issues, braver than most of us. They were at the same time defenders of Indigenous and human rights, and defenders of the environment. They belonged to different classes and ethnic groups. There is one statistical regularity that is not socially surprising. Barring one or two suicide cases, killers were always men, sometimes policemen or the military, sometimes hitmen or gangs. Most of the time, murderers went unpunished.

This chapter is merely an attempt to give visibility to only about 25 WED killed as a sample from those registered in the EJAtlas (Figure 4.5). We list their names and briefly explain the p. 88 p. 89circumstances of their deaths. They were directly concerned with everyday socio-environmental issues. They defended the communities’ livelihood, their access to water and their peasant agriculture, conservation of communal ecosystems.

  • Gloria Capitan / Philippines / Coal stockpiling and thermal plant

  • Teresita Navacilla / Philippines / Copper and gold mining (Chapter 3)

  • Adelinda Gómez Gaviria / Colombia / Gold mining, coal mining

  • Gladys del Estal / Basque country / Nuclear energy

  • Karunamoyee Sardar / Bangladesh / Shrimp farms

  • Nasreen Huq / Bangladesh / Coal mining

  • Montha Chukaew, Pranee Boonrat / Thailand / Palm oil

  • Macarena Valdés / Chile / Hydroelectricity

  • Laura Leonor Vásquez, Merilyn Topacio Reynoso / Guatemala / Gold mining

  • Jeanette Kawas / Honduras / Wetlands conservation, against palm oil

  • Berta Cáceres / Honduras / Hydroelectricity, Indigenous rights

  • Betty Cariño (and Jyri Jaakkola) / Mexico / Mining, Indigenous rights

  • Fabiola Osorio Bernáldez / Mexico / Mangrove defence

  • Juventina Villa / Mexico / Against deforestation, communal defence

  • Lupita Campanur / Mexico / Against deforestation, communal defence

  • Otilia Martínez Cruz / Mexico / Against deforestation, Indigenous rights

  • Nilce de Souza (Nicinha) / Brazil / Hydroelectricity

  • Maria do Espírito Santo (& J.C. Ribeiro da Silva) / Brazil / Against deforestation and livestock

  • Dorothy Stang, Sister / Brazil / Against deforestation and livestock

  • Valsa John, Sister / India / Coal mining

  • Sunia Bai / India / Coal-fired power plant

  • Felicita Cherres / Peru / Community land, conservation

  • María Choque / Peru / Metal mining

  • Estela Casanto / Peru / Land grabbing

A world map showing the conflicts where women activists have been killed, classified in different categories (biodiversity, biomass, water etc.).
Figure 4.5

Women environmental activists killed around the world

Source:  A. Grimaldos

Women's environmental activism has been discussed from different perspectives. The long struggle to show that the gender division of housework was not a fact of nature, and that exclusion of women from some forms of property or from well-paid work was not natural and could be reversed, was perhaps undermined by “essentialist ecofeminism”. In 1992, economist Bina Agarwal, discussing the interpretations of the Chipko movement, opposed the essentialist view of women being by biological imperative closer to nature than men, arguing that rural women were indeed concerned and knowledgeable about nature and its destruction because of socially constructed roles. For instance, they were attributed the caring for and the availability of health and safe shelter, water and food in the family, making them (particularly rural poor women) more knowledgeable about nature and the main defenders of the local environments against outside dispossession. The “materialist ecofeminist” Ariel Salleh (1997), likewise, brought forward the crucial observation that objectively women are indeed close to nature, as all human beings are, including men – unless they suffer from self-serving alienation as maîtres et possesseurs de la nature, to use Descartes’ words. Humans are undoubtedly part of nature, they are not dematerialized angels.

The materialist environmental-feminist theories of Bina Agarwal and Ariel Salleh are quite similar to the current Indigenous and Afro-American movement of feminismo comunitario p. 90in defence of territories and human bodies. This is quite pertinent to interpret the cases of women environmental defenders killed. Women's environmental activism is nothing new. But, often, it remains invisible because of the subordination of women to male domination in all spheres of public life. The murders addressed in this chapter all have to do with protests regarding various commodities that provide inputs to the economy. These women fought against fossil fuels; metal mining; palm oil; wood taken by talamontes (illegal loggers); export-oriented shrimp farms destroying mangroves; livestock ruining the Amazon Forest, hydropower, nuclear risks, coal-fired power plants. They defended their communities’ livelihood, access to land, water and clean air, peasant agriculture, conservation of communal ecosystems. They were killed because of such material causes to which, at another level, one must add the capitalist industrial system and patriarchy, coloniality and racism in many instances. Many of them were mothers and grandmothers; they were single, married, divorced or widows; some had very young children in their care or were pregnant when they were killed. Their motivation for defending nature, as far as we know, was not the direct caring for the family, although they most probably did this job in many cases, among other jobs. They defended nature because of the duty they felt for caring for the community or ethnic group, and for nature itself. In many cases there was a spiritual attachment to nature, like in Macarena Valdés’ case, but without exhibiting a peculiarly feminine closeness to nature. In any case, there was not a unique pattern of motivation among them, and not a unique scale of activity (Gloria Capitan was active locally and on global climate change; Nicinha was active locally and a leader of MAB, a Brazil-wide organization). They were all “intersectional”, not only environmental activists. They shared the defence of nature and human livelihoods. Many were to some extent independent from strict family obligations and socially able to engage in public activism, attracting the killers’ attention or risking their lives in mass demonstrations.

These cases represent the many WED who have been active and who have been violently repressed. We know their names and circumstances because of the greater visibility that their violent deaths gave them. The repressive system is like a pyramid of terror or at least a pyramid of fear ‒ it manages to dismantle activism, sometimes causing many to go into inactivity, killing only some, injuring more, displacing many, putting some in prison and frightening almost everybody. Local and international companies were almost always responsible for those deaths. The state usually collaborated openly with the companies or sometimes only through its inaction. In some few cases, assassins suffered punishment by the judiciary.

Some were young, others were already grandmothers. In most cases, the women victimized were above 45 years old and had a long trajectory of activism behind them. What did these women have in common beyond their violent deaths? These murders were often accompanied by others, not so visible: a son or stepson who accompanied them, other companions of the same organization, etc. In a few cases, the women faithfully accompanied the husband on trips or demonstrations that proved too dangerous. In other cases, husbands followed women or both walked by their side. Most of these women did not depend on husbands, they were single, separated, widowed, or they were married. But all this is perhaps irrelevant. As Dalena Tran has written, “discursive depictions of WED focus on kinship”. We ask, were they single, married, grandmothers? Something that is not asked of men environmental defenders, “deflecting attention from other allegiances, their contributions to society, their efforts and long hours of work, their leadership, their own interests and values”. Further work by Dalena Tran and others with the EJAtlas has advanced knowledge of this issue (WED killed) beyond that shown in the present chapter (Tran 2022, Tran 2023, Tran and Hanaček 2023).p. 91



Resistance to coal stockpiling leads to Gloria Capitan's murder, Bataan, Philippines (Editorial team), EJAtlas.

Kaiman, J. (2017). A Philippines grandmother fought to get a toxic coal stockpile out of her neighborhood. Three bullets stopped her. Los Angeles Times, 28 December.


Mining in Macizo Colombiano, and the death of Adelinda Gómez, Colombia (Mario Pérez Rincón), EJAtlas.

Tenthoff, M. (2013). El crimen de Adelinda Gómez y las tensiones por la minería en el Cauca. Radio Macondo, 17 December.


Bolaños, E.A. (2013). El Macizo Colombiano se moviliza. El Espectador, 28 February.


Nuclear power plant in Tudela, Spain (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.


Successful protests to remain a shrimp-free zone in Polder 22, Khulna, Bangladesh (Brototi Roy), EJAtlas.

Shrimp Cultivation destroying local livelihood, Bangladesh (Syeda Rizwana Hasan), EJAtlas.


Phulbari coal mine project, Bangladesh (Malena Bengtsson, “Martin” and Brototi Roy), EJAtlas.

Rampal Thermal Power Plant at Sundarbans, Bangladesh (Swapan Kumar Patra), EJAtlas.

Banshkhali coal power station, Chittagong, Bangladesh (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.


Sugarcane cultivation and oil palm plantation in Polochic valley, Guatemala (Sara Mingorría), EJAtlas.

Vanijara V. (2014). No heroes allowed here, Bangkok Post, 5 June.

Jiew Kang Jue Pattana oil palm company, Thailand (Sara Mingorría and Carros de Combate), EJAtlas.


Hidroeléctrica Tranguil, Chile (Joan Martinez-Alier and Daniela Del Bene), EJAtlas.


Proyecto Minero El Escobal, Guatemala (Fundación Neotrópica/Grettel Navas), EJAtlas.


Conflict and Harm at Pan American Silver´s Projects in Latin America, featured map, EJAtlas.


Oil palm and National Park Jeannette Kawas, Honduras (Grettel Navas and Sara Mingorria) EJAtlas.

Proyecto Hidroeléctrico Agua Zarca, Honduras (Grettel Navas and Daniela Del Bene), EJAtlas.


The violent death of Betty Cariño, Oaxaca, Mexico (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.

Muelle de Pie de la Cuesta y muerte de Fabiola Osorio por defender el manglar, Guerrero, Mexico (Editorial team), EJAtlas.

CESPCC de Guerrero lamenta la muerte de Juventina Villa, Mexico (Editorial team), EJAtlas.

Bosques, agua y territorio en Cherán, Michoacán, Mexico (Deborah Lucero and Máster en Gestión Fluvial Sostenible y Gestión Integrada de Aguas), EJAtlas.

Mayorga, P. (2019). Exigen seguridad en el Triángulo Dorado tras asesinato de activista y su hijo. Proceso, 3 May.

Estrada, J. and Villalpando, R. (2019). Matan a madre e hijo, defensores de bosques en Chihuahua, Mongabay, Tierra de Resistentes, 4 May.

Rarámuri (Tarahumara) fight against deforestation, and Isidro Baldenegro's murder, Chihuahua, Mexico (EJAtlas Team), EJAtlas.


Jirau and Santo Antonio Dams on Madeira River, Brazil (Lucie Greyl and Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.


Illegal logging, land grabbing and deaths of Zé Claudio and Maria do Espírito Santo, Pará, Brazil (Joan Martinez-Alier and Felipe Milanez), EJAtlas.


Deforestation in Pará and the death of Sister Dorothy Stang, Brazil (Joan Martinez-Alier), EJAtlas.


Reserva Ecológica de Chaparri contra traficantes de tierras, Lambayeque, Peru (Raquel Neyra), EJAtlas.

Mina Santa Ana belonging to Bear Creek company, and the death of María Choque, Puno, Peru (Raquel Neyra), EJAtlas.


Katni Power Station, Madhya Pradesh, India (Swapan Kumar Patra), EJAtlas.

Panem Coal Mines, Jharkhand, India (Brototi Roy), EJAtlas.


India Today (2012). Man tries to end life over land acquisition in Madhya Pradesh, 15 November..

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