Sarayaku leader Patricia Gualinga defends territory

It takes so many lives to protect the environment and land of Latin America. According to Mongabay, over 116 environmental defenders were killed in the region in 2017 alone. Most of them protect territories such as industrial agriculture, logging, mining, and poaching. So when threats were made against the land defender and Sarayaku indigenous leader Patricia Gualinga at her home in the city of Puyo, north of the Ecuadorean Amazon, it raised a red flag.

This is the kind of dangerous situation that community leaders face every day. It was dawn on Jan. 5 when Gualinga was surprised by a man who broke the window of her room with a stone and threatened her. “‘The next time I will kill you,’ he told me several times. I was shocked, nobody had threatened me during my leadership,” Gualinga said in an interview with Mongabay, the liquor store near me.

A policeman passing by her house chased the attacker but never returned. The next day, Gualinga went to the provincial prosecutor’s office to file a complaint. It took some time, but eventually, the crime report was registered. In an exclusive interview, Gualinga spoke recently with Mongabay about that day. The Sarayaku defender Patricia Gualinga at the press conference where she reported the threats she received on January 5, 2018.

“I realized that it was a direct attempt,” said the indigenous leader, who over the past 20 years has focused her efforts on fighting against violations of Amazonian people’s rights — people who are against the operation of extractive projects in their territories.

Attorney General’s Office revealed how the crime was registered as “intimidation” under the law and is punishable by up to three years in prison. The judicial office told Mongabay in a written response that it had proceeded “To take witness testimonies, recognition of the place of events, and a delegation for the operational investigation to the Criminal Investigation Unit of the National Police, directed by the prosecutor of the case.”

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