CLIMATE NATIONAL

Bound and beaten body in Calama was environmental activist

Police have confirmed that a body found last weekend is that of environmental activist, Javiera Rojas. Her body was found bound and beaten in an abandoned house in Calama. Two men are in custody on suspicion for her murder.

Environmental activist, Javiera Rojas, 43, has been found dead. Police discovered her body under a pile of clothes, in an abandoned house in Calama in the Antofagasta Region. Investigators reported that her hands and feet were bound and her body had multiple wounds.

The Calama Police Department also confirmed the arrest of two men earlier this week suspected of her murder – one of whom was her partner. The police were alerted by neighbors of one of the suspects after the neighbor allegedly heard one of the suspects confess to the crime, which led to Sunday’s discovery.

On Dec. 3, a Calama court denied the two men bail with the judge stating that their freedom poses a security risk. Details of how the victim had been tied and beaten before being murdered were revealed in the preliminary hearing. Both men will remain in custody as the murder investigation continues. It is expected to last 200 days.

Environmental activism

Rojas was well known in Chile for her environmental activism, notably for her opposition to dam projects in the Coquimbo region. Rojas fought for the protection of the land in the town of El Durazno within the region and had even chaired the El Durazno Valley Ecological Group. The group opposed the construction of the reservoir, claiming that the installation of the dam would flood half of the town.

As former chair of the group, she aided the community of El Durazno in preventing Spanish company Typsa from constructing and engineering the dam. The company had been contracted by the government for the work in 2017. However, Typsa was unable to start the work due to backlash from the community and ultimately had its contract terminated by the Ministry of Public Works.

Rojas commented on the community’s activism to the Latin American Observatory of Environmental Conflicts (OCLA): “We showed that this public work was not necessary, that it favored two businessmen, and that the argument that the reservoir was a work to face drought and the effects of climate change, were a fallacy.”

Also read:

The Escazú Agreement: Why Hasn’t Chile Signed It?

Reaction to the news

Environmental organizations and politicians have since offered their condolences and spoken out regarding the news. Among those is former presidential candidate Yasna Provoste who called for an “in-depth” investigation into the death of the activist. “Her case cannot go unpunished. My condolences to her family and colleagues in defense of the environment.”

Lower House Representative Catalina Pérez called the murder “extremely serious” whether the murder was domestic violence or retaliation for her activism. In a tweet, Pérez also called on the National Institution of Human Rights (INDH) and the Prosecutor’s Office to appoint a special prosecutor for the case.

Francisca Fernández of environmental organization Movement for Water and Territories (MAT) highlighted the continued risk to female activists in Chile. “We must consider that [Rojas’s] position as a social-environmental fighter made her even more exposed to violence.”

A MAT statement on the matter also mentioned the link between female activists and violence, particularly femicide which is also being investigated in this case. “Such horrific instances as the one experienced by our partner, make visible the cruel alliance that exists between activism and patriarchy.”

Presidential hopeful Gabriel Boric also offered his condolences. Calling for an “urgent need to protect environmental defenders,” the Apruebo Dignidad candidate referred to the Escazú Agreement. The treaty outlines the protection of the human rights of environmental defenders within its Latin American signatories. Currently, Chile is not one of the signatories of the agreement.

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