In 2018, 16 Latin American and Caribbean countries signed the legally-binding Escazú Agreement, which sought to counter government and multinational corruption, exploitation of resources and violence against environmental activists in the region. Costa Rica and Chile had pioneered the agreement, the latter under former President Michelle Bachelet, even as, on home terrain, Mapuche activists seeking to protect their communities and land were constantly targeted by the dictatorship-era’s anti-terror laws.
In September 2018, under the current right-wing President Sebastian Piñera, Chile withdrew from the Escazú Agreement, which requires consultations with communities and citizens during policy making. Chile’s decision to abdicate its responsibilities occurred three months after a Global Witness report established that 207 environmental activists were murdered in 2017, with 60% of the total occurring in Latin America.
Article 9 (1) of the agreement stipulates the obligation of governments to guarantee “a safe and enabling environment for persons, groups and organisations that promote and defend human rights in environmental mattes, so that they are able to act free from threat, restriction and insecurity.”
Just a month after the Chilean government withdrew from the agreement, a trail of suspicious deaths and blatant murders of environmental activists and trade union leaders raised fear among Chileans. The remembrance of Macarena Valdes, a Mapuche environmental activist murdered in 2016, resurfaced.