Environmental Defenders Under Attack: Second Goldman Prize Winner Killed in Less Than a Year

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Despite recent press coverage about the violence against international environmental defenders, another prominent figure has been murdered in cold blood.

On Sunday, January 15, 2017, world-renowned environmental activist Isidro Baldenegro López was killed in his uncle’s home in northern Mexico by a gunman, according to the local prosecutor’s report. He was 51 years old. The New York Times reports the alleged shooter, Romero Rubio Martínez, fired six shots and then fled the scene. Baldenegro died hours later.

A 2005 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize award, Baldenegro was a second-generation environmental activist of the indigenous Tarahumara people, whose ancestral lands reside in the western Sierra Madre mountain range. Baldenegro witnessed his own father’s assassination in 1986 for similar activist efforts but remained a staunch defender against logging in his region’s native, old-growth forests.

According to the Goldman prize website, nearly 99 percent of the Tarahumara region’s old-growth forests have been exploited for various logging and mining activities. This forested region – or what’s left of it – was worth saving for Baldenegro; it’s one of the most biodiverse ecosystems left on the planet.

Baldenegro, one of only four Mexicans to receive the prestigious Goldman award, marks the second awardee to be killed in less than 12 months. Berta Cáceres, a Goldman prize recipient in 2015, was killed by gunmen in her home in March 2016 after leading a grassroots campaign against a hydroelectric dam proposed in her native Honduras. On January 17 of this year, 72-year-old activist Sebastian Alonso was shot and killed while protesting another dam in Guatemala, according to reports.

“Unfortunately, too many governments are failing to create safe spaces where people can voice their dissent and organize movements free of persecution and violent attacks,” Susan R. Gelman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said in a statement upon news of Baldenegro’s death.

Global Witness, an international NGO that documents natural resource extraction, corruption, and violence, reported a 59 percent increase in related killings in 2015. In total, some 185 environmental defenders were murdered in 2015, according to their latest report.

This story also appears on New Security Beat