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Engineer Sandra Cuéllar is one of many Colombians who've gone missing or been killed for their environmental activism. Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images

Latin America and the Caribbean is the deadliest region for environmental defenders, a violent record that has global repercussions.

Why it matters: The region has several of the most biodiverse areas of the planet, but they are constantly threatened by logging, mining or aquifer overexploitation.

  • Razing those areas has worldwide consequences, such as accelerating global warming when it is already alarmingly high.
  • In many cases, civilian activists are the only ones standing against harmful projects in their communities.
  • Latin America has been a flashpoint for several years, but attacks increased to their worst number on record in 2020.

By the numbers: Of the 227 killings tallied globally by Global Witness, 165 occurred in Latin American countries. That is 72%, or almost 3 out of 4.

  • Colombia had the highest toll, with 65 lethal attacks, followed by Mexico with 30 killings and Brazil with 20.
  • Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua had the fifth, seventh and eighth highest environmental activist death tolls in the world.
  • Global Witness also stresses that many attacks these activists face, like death threats or sexual violence, go unreported.

State of play: Most of the cases also go unpunished, begetting further violence, as “corruption in criminal justice systems too often shields governments and businesses responsible for these murders,” UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor tells AP.

  • A notable exception is the 2016 murder of Honduran Berta Cáceres, a member of the Lenca Indigenous community, who was shot dead because of her protests against a hydroelectric dam.
  • Her family pushed tirelessly for justice in the country with the highest levels of impunity in the Americas.
  • Cáceres' killers were sentenced in 2019 to 50 years in prison, while the U.S. trained intelligence officer who hired them was convicted this past summer.

What they’re saying: “The people killed each year defending their local places are also defending our shared planet — in particular our climate,” American environmentalist Bill McKibben writes in the Global Witness report. The work of those activists “safeguard[s] all of us from incessant temperature increases.”

Get more news that matters about Latinos in the hemisphere, delivered right to your inbox on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sign up for the Axios Latino newsletter.

Go deeper

COVID-era criminals go free: Prosecutors dismiss cases as backlog mounts

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

The pandemic slowed the criminal justice system to a crawl in much of the U.S., and now an increase in violent crime is straining the system even further.

Why it matters: COVID-19 has caused backlogs in criminal cases across the U.S. to swell, forcing district attorneys to focus on the most violent offenses — and decline, delay or deal down a slew of other cases.

Sep 28, 2021 - Axios Denver

Colorado's violent crime rate hits 25-year high

Expand chart
Data: FBI; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The estimated number of violent crimes in Colorado last year spiked to its highest level in 25 years and exceeded the national rate for the third straight year, according to statistics released Monday by the FBI.

Why it matters: The findings, some of which are approximates, bolster initial data showing a surge in violent crime in Denver and across the state throughout the pandemic.

Updated 44 mins ago - World

Reports: Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

Details: The missionaries had just left an orphanage and were traveling by bus to the airport to "drop off some members" and planned to travel to another destination afterward when the gang abducted them in Port-au-Prince, Haitian security officials said, per the NYT.