Church and community leaders in Latin America met in Panama to strengthen their efforts to protect communities from exploitative extractive industries. The following article was published in the November-December 2023 issue of NewsNotes.
Thirty community leaders from ten Latin American countries met in Panama in August to share experiences and strategies of active nonviolent resistance to the brutal extractivism impacting their communities in an event organized by Pax Christi International.
The leaders represented frontline communities, human rights organizations, and ecclesial ecology networks. Also present were the memories of martyrs who gave their lives in defense of the integrity of their lands and people. Among those martyrs—Saint Oscar Romero.
The gathering began each day with a rich interchange of eco-spirituality, with each community sharing rituals and sacred symbols of their land. Then it pivoted to the pressing dangers that the lands face.
The transition to renewal energy motivates the latest phase of a pattern of plunder in the Americas by powerful outside interests dating back to 1492. The extractive model leaves a wake of destroyed lives, communities, traditions, lands, rivers, and entire ecosystems. With the global transition to clean energy, this pillaging of lands – many of them homes to indigenous communities – will likely grow exponentially in the coming years.
Many land defenders are facing threats of jail and assassination. Tutela Legal identified land defenders in El Salvador as among those who are threatened.
At the same time, there have been victories, both large and small. Several communities have been able to block or undo the efforts of powerful international companies to haphazardly mine. These smaller victories have crescendoed with larger ones, including the vote on August 20th in which the Ecuadorian people decided to end fossil fuel drilling in nature reserves.
The encounter concluded with a shared commitment to strengthen the path of peace and care for our common home through the following strategies:
- Elevate the voices of the communities that have been affected by extractive industry.
- Address the collective rights of communities, especially indigenous, Afro-American, mestizo, rural, and urban communities, in national, regional, and international policy meetings.
- Promote public policies that would curb violations committed by governments and corporations and promote national structures in the transnational extractive companies’ countries of origins to investigate human rights abuses committed in Latin America, ensuring that the recommendations of such structures are followed.
- Support human rights defenders at risk in Latin America who are confronted by the extractive industry, especially through empowerment, protection, and legal assistance to counteract impunity of high level corporate and corrupt government actors.
- Demand transparency and accountability from governments and transnational extractive companies.
- Demand effective processes of environmental democracy from governments,
- providing legal guarantees for the active and effective participation of rural and urban communities to obtain their free, prior and informed consent to the extractive industry. Respect the figure of popular consultations that allow communities in many countries in the region decide whether they want mining exploration in their territories.
- Promote in governments the need for serious, objective, and independent research, (including at universities) in order to achieve rigorous diagnoses of the real impacts and the planning of society’s well-being in the framework of a just energy transition.
- Reject existing concessions located in indigenous territories or protected areas.
- Promote a decrease in the consumption levels; call for a moratorium on concessions, as El Salvador has done in order to plan for a more sustainable environment and respect for the rights of communities.
- Ensure that Free Trade Agreements contribute to the sustainable development of Latin American countries and that the human rights clauses relating to human rights and the environment are respected by having legal guarantees for the demand of rights by the communities.
- Monitor litigation by states against corporations when public health or environmental laws are at risk.
- Support the process for a UN Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights, for concrete policies for concrete policies with legal accountability for corporations and guarantees for communities.
- Ensure that the member states of the Organization of American States (OAS) comply with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Photo of the Encuentro group courtesy of Pax Christi International Latin America and Caribbean via Facebook.