The main mission and commitment of NAPF is to educate and advocate for peace and a world free of nuclear weapons and to empower peace leaders, as well as preserving the environment and ensuring the rights of future generations. Through seminars, awareness programs, books and media, we reach many people and join our voice with other organizations fighting for that dream moment, the total elimination of all nuclear armaments.
We are aware of other situations that threaten the future and health of our planet. In order to enjoy the world of peace we desire, we need to have in place first, a world with Nature and all its wonders. And that world is under siege by the relentless human activities that plunder our common house without considering the consequences of greed and selfishness.
Our natural resources are diminishing rapidly; we treat our world like a bank, withdrawing every day the wealth but without making deposits or investments.
It is undeniable that climate change is happening and very fast. As I write these notes, I am reading that an international panel of scientists has concluded that sea level could rise three feet by the end of this century, with all its catastrophic consequences.
Another disturbing news that will affect all of us is the continuous unpunished assassinations of defenders and protectors of the environment. They themselves are becoming a species in danger of extinction, just like the animals and plants they try to save.
Those heinous crimes do not respect national borders or continents. Particularly, in Latin America with its vast natural resources there have occurred many of those disturbing actions.
In the tiny and beautiful country that is Costa Rica, once called the “Switzerland of the Americas” and named by Jacques Cousteau, “Island of Peace”, the protection of animal species and natural reserves has diminished dramatically.
Last May a young conservationist, Jairo Mora, dedicated to protecting leatherback turtles and their nests on the beaches of the Atlantic coastline in Costa Rica, was cowardly murdered during one of his patrolling rounds. Together with four foreign women volunteers, three Americans and one Spaniard were ambushed and kidnapped the night of May 31. The masked men tied and bound the women in an abandoned house in a remote area of the province of Limon. Jairo was taken and within a few hours his body was found on one of his beloved beaches showing signs of torture and asphyxiation. This is not an isolated event in a nation who has been distinguished with recognition in the world for its efforts to protect her rich natural resources and eliminating their army in 1948. It is one of the 15 nations in the world to keep no military forces. The situation has now changed in the country of Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and twice President of Costa Rica.
As a vivid example of how different the former “Island of Peace” has changed, the current president, Laura Chinchilla, in one of her first public statements in October 30, 2010, requested – “the collaboration to confront the radical groups of NGO defenders of the environment because they don’t like development and want to see Costa Rica as a museum of natural history.”
With that kind of mentality, it not surprising events likes Jairo’s murder and the enormous difficulties the defenders of the environment are now facing in Costa Rica.
In the vastness of South America, Brazil houses the largest ecosystem on the planet, Amazonia and the mighty Amazon River. For many years, numerous protectors of flora and fauna have been harassed and even murdered. The legendary Chico Mendez, also know as “The Gandhi of the Amazon” fought tirelessly trying to save the rainforest. He was executed in December of 1988 triggering a movement worldwide against the destruction of the biggest tropical jungle on Earth. After Chico, many other activists as well as journalists, true heroes who often work in anonymity, have paid with their lives for daring to oppose the destruction of an environment that could alter the face of the planet. That long list includes a 72 year-old American nun, Dorothy Stang, murdered on February 12, 2005. She fought the logging industry clear cutting the Amazon rainforest. Now we need to add another name, the Spanish biologist Gonzalo Alonzo Hernandez. Gonzalo was assassinated on August 6 of this year, his tortured body thrown into the waters of a region he loved and protected. Here we have a top executive from a Spanish phone company, Telefonica, who arrived in Brazil in 2003 and left the company in 2005 after falling in love with the countryside and devoting his life exclusively to environmental work. He stood out for his advocacy for rivers, plants and animals in danger of extinction, denouncing poachers and arsonists clearing spaces for farms.
In another important country, Mexico, blessed by nature, the dangerous situation is similar for environmentalists and activists. The list of crimes against advocates for the environment is staggering. In the last two years at least thirteen defenders have lost their lives in their fight against big mining companies, logging, mega developers and even the drug cartels. It is an unequal struggle due to the corruption of the Mexican law system.
Noe Vazquez Ortiz was murdered by stoning on August 2 of this year because of his opposition to the hydroelectric dam El Naranjal, in the state of Veracruz, a state already plagued by the continuous assassinations of journalists. He was the leader of campesinos trying to stop the privatization of the water that affects rivers and lakes and threatens their customs and way of life.
Just to cite another case, on October 2012, Ismael Solorio and his wife Manuela Solis, were killed because of their advocacy supporting the rights of miners opposing the powerful Canadian company, Mag Silver in San Jose del Progreso, Oaxaca. The work conditions for the miners are poor. The destruction of the environment is enormous. A few days before his death, Ismael had denounced the possibility of bloodsheds if the Government did not intervene. His warnings were totally ignored.
We believe in NAPF that is our moral duty to denounce these and many other crimes against the ones that dedicate their lives for the benefit of their fellow men. We demand justice and to keep alive the names and memory of those fallen heroes.
Ruben Arvizu is Director for Latin America of NAPF and Ambassador of Global Cities Covenant of Climate. He collaborates with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society as Director for Latin America and Film producer.