Fetisov Journalism Awards 2020

Third Prize

Category: Excellence in Environmental Journalism

"Land of Resistants" (Tierra de Resistentes)

Authors: Dora Montero Carvajal, Andrés Bermudez Liévano, Tatiana Pardo, María Paula, Murcia Ginna Morelo, Sara Castillejo, Helena Calle, César Rojas, Jeanneth Valdivieso, Lisset Boon, Ezequiel Fernández, Juliana Mori, Isabela Ponce, Vienna Herrera, Alexa Vélez

(Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela)

Dora Montero Carvajal

Colombian journalist. Founding partner and president of Consejo de Redaccion (CdR); she is an investigative reporter and head of broadcasting at Noticias RCN. Her reporting focuses on regional conflicts ranging from corruption and drug trafficking to armed conflict and environment. On three occasions she has received the Simon Bolivar National Journalism Award and has also been awarded the Luis Enrique Figueroa, CPB (Bogota Journalists Circle) and the IAPA Excellence in Journalism awards. From CdR she has led the project Land of Resistants.

Andres Bermudez Lievano

Colombian journalist and editor at the Latin American Center for Investigative Journalism (CLIP). For the past eight years, he has specialized in issues related to the Peace Agreement and the environment. He has been the general editor of Land of Resistants.

Ginna Morelo

A Caribbean Soul, Ginna Morelo is a reporter and editor of unfinished astonishment and university professor. She is co-founder of Consejo de Redaccion. She is the winner of the 2018 Gabo Award, elected Journalist of the Year of the Simon Bolivar National Journalism Award, two-time winner of the Ortega y Gasset award and the IAPA Award for Excellence in Journalism. She has worked and written for several media outlets.

Ezequiel Fernandez Bravo

Ezequiel Fernandez Bravo works as editor at Revista Anfibia, where he also produces the podcasts "Batalla Cultural" and "Muy en una". He is a journalist, anthropologist from the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA) and Master in Human Rights and Democratization in Latin America and the Caribbean from the Universidad Nacional de San Martin (UNSAM). He has taught undergraduate and graduate classes at UNSAM, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) and Universidad Torcuato Di Tella.

Helena Calle

Colombian journalist. She worked at El Malpensante magazine and is currently an environmental, science, health and education journalist for El Espectador newspaper. For two and a half years she was in charge of the Infoamazonia project in Colombia, a news portal dedicated to the Amazon Basin. She is a feminist.

Cesar Rojas Angel

Journalist and political scientist. He is interested in education, environment and human rights. Among other media, he is a collaborator of the channel France 24 in Spanish, with whom he worked for this project.   

Maria Paula Murcia Huertas

Community Editor at @MutanteOrg. Journalist and anthropologist in training. She is interested in understanding and explaining human relationships and those of humans with other species. She has covered issues related to the climate crisis, struggles for food sovereignty and indigenous peoples in Colombia.

Sara Castillejo Ditta

Colombian journalist and programmer. She has covered the migration, forced disappearance, violence and censorship issues in Colombia and Latin America. She worked in the media alliance The League Against Silence which, promoted by the Fundacion para la Libertad de Prensa (Flip), conducts research on silenced issues in the country. She was also a member of the Data Journalism Unit in the El Tiempo newspaper, where she participated in collaborative projects of national and transnational scope.

Her background is specific in the creation of large multimedia reports, cooperating in their ideation, research, field work, writing, design and custom digital editing. In addition, she performs data collection, mining, analysis and visualization tasks.

Her contribution to the reports ‘La busqueda de los desaparecidos: Colombia y Guatemala gritan por una multitud en silencio’ (The Search for the Disappeared: Colombia and Guatemala Scream for a Crowd in Silence) and ‘Venezuela a la Fuga’ (Venezuela on the Run) has earned her awards such as the 2019 IAPA Excellence in Journalism Award for Data Journalism and, in 2018, the Gabo Award for Best Coverage and the LATAM Digital Media Award for Best Data Visualization.

She currently coordinates the collaborative Land of Resistants Open Data project of the association Consejo de Redaccion, which promotes investigative journalism.

Tatiana Pardo Ibarra

Freelance journalist. She is interested in issues related to the environment, science, human rights, indigenous peoples and the relationship between armed conflict and nature. She has worked for the two most important newspapers in Colombia: El Espectador and El Tiempo. Her stories also appear in Mongabay, Vice, Dialogo Chino and Todo es Ciencia. She is coordinator and editor of Land of Resistants and winner of the Amway Award.

Jeanneth Valdivieso

Jeanneth Valdivieso is an Ecuadorian journalist. She has lived in Bogota since 2017. She is currently deputy editor of The League Against Silence, a media alliance that publishes stories to combat censorship and silence. Together with a team of journalists she was a finalist for the 2019 Gabo Award in the coverage category for the work ‘Frontera Cautiva’ (Captive Border). She has reported for different media from Ecuador, Brazil, Cuba and Colombia. She was a journalist for The Associated Press in Quito and content editor at El Telegrafo newspaper and the Andes de Ecuador news agency. She won the 2014 Cupre Journalism Award (Ecuador) for a series of reports made in the Gaza Strip. She participated in the book Los Tele-presidentes: cerca del pueblo, lejos de la democracia. Crónica de 12 presidentes latinoamericanos y sus modos de comunicar by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation (FES).

Vienna Herrera

Journalist at Contracorriente with investigative work on extractivism, environment, power structures and sexual and reproductive rights.

Alexa Velez

Alexa Velez has more than 15 years of experience as a journalist and works for Mongabay, a media outlet specializing in environmental issues with a scientific focus with offices in the United States, Indonesia, Latin America, India and Brazil. She is currently the managing editor of the Latin America office. In the last three years, she has received two honorable mentions from the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) for her participation in two journalistic specials: Ganaderia y narcodeforestacion: la lenta desaparicion de los bosques en Centroamerica (Cattle ranching and narco-deforestation: the slow disappearance of forests in Central America) and Tierra de Resistentes (Land of Resistants). She has also been a finalist for two consecutive years for the National Journalism Award in Peru with investigative reports on the advance of drug trafficking in the triple border - shared by Colombia, Brazil and Peru - and on illegal mining and drug trafficking in protected natural areas.

Lisseth Boon

Venezuelan investigative journalist with extensive experience in print and digital media in Venezuela and transnational collaborative projects. For her investigations on corruption, organized crime, extractivism and human rights violations, she has been awarded the national investigative journalism award of the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Ipys), the Latin American Conference of Investigative Journalism (Colpin), the Gabo Journalism Award, the Excellence Award of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) and ONA. A graduate of the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello in Caracas, she has postgraduate studies from the Universidad Simon Bolivar in Caracas and the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain.  She was a fellow of the Draper Hills 2016 summer program of the CDDLR at Stanford University, California, as well as the Fojo Program of the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) in Sweden. She has participated in cross-border collaborative projects such as Panama Papers, Investiga LavaJato, Tierra de Resistentes, Swiss Connection and Fincen Files. Currently, she coordinates the research unit of the digital media Runrun.es in Caracas as well as the research projects of the Alianza Rebelde Investiga (ARI) formed by Runrunes, El Pitazo and Tal Cual.

Juliana Mori

Journalist specializing in audiovisual productions and geospatial data visualization. She is co-founder and editorial director of InfoAmazonia, a vehicle that uses maps, data and geolocated reports to tell stories about the rainforest in the nine countries of the Amazon. She holds a degree in journalism from the Pontificia Universidade Catolica (PUC) de São Paulo/Brazil, and a master's degree in Digital Arts from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Barcelona/Spain.

Isabela Ponce Ycaza

Isabela Ponce Ycaza is an Ecuadorian journalist and editor. She is co-founder and editorial director of GK. Her work focuses on women's and girls' rights, environment and indigenous rights. In 2018 she published the first investigation into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Ecuador. In 2019 she received a mention from the IAPA for an opinion column on gender violence, and was part of the finalist team for the Gabo Award in the Coverage category for the ‘Frontera Cautiva’ (Captive Border) project. In 2020 she was a finalist for the Online Journalism Awards with a project on women adapting to climate change.

Land of Resistants

The original publication is available via the following link: https://tierraderesistentes.com/ (English, Spanish, Portuguese)

Defending the jungles, mountains, forests and rivers of Latin America has never been so dangerous. 6 out of the 10 most hostile countries for leaders and communities defending the environment and their ancestral lands are in Latin America, according to Special Rapporteur Michel Forst’s 2016 report to the UN.

A team of journalists from ten countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela) came together to investigate such attacks against environmental defenders.

We worked for a year, unveiling in March 2020 a database with 2.367 attacks over the last 11 years (2009-2019) and 13 in-depth stories on individual episodes, which complemented the 16 stories we ran when first publishing our project in April 2019. It isn’t a complete picture of attacks during that time period, as underreporting is rife. However, our database -built with more than 100 sources, including official entities, press archives, social organizations and on-the-ground reporting- shows a heartbreaking panorama.

Our Findings

Our research found 2.133 attacks against individual leaders and 234 against communities or organizations defending the environment.

78.7% of events were against men, perhaps because they traditionally have held community leadership positions, although we also found 441 attacks against women, including Pemon leader Lisa Henrito Percy in Venezuela, Siona leader Martha Liliana Piaguaje in Colombia or Kichwa leader Patricia Gualinga in Ecuador whose stories we told.

From murders to attacks and even judicial harassment and displacement, they have paid a high price for defending their right to a healthy environment and protecting strategic ecosystems within their territories.

Hard-Hit Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic minorities are the target of an alarming 48% of violence cases (1.146 cases), proving that indigenous and Afro-descendant territories are particularly vulnerable to these criminal interests.

Data show 893 attacks against members of 159 different indigenous ethnic groups, with the Lenca in Honduras being the most attacked (71), including murdered leader Berta Caceres. They're followed by the Guarani-kaiowa (54) and Munduruku (39) in Brazil.

17 of our reports document attacks and actions against indigenous communities who try to safeguard their ancestral lands –Lenca in Honduras; Kolla and Atacama in Argentina; Pemon in Venezuela; Shuar and Kichwa in Ecuador; Piratapuyo, Tucano, Pijao, Siona, Zenu and Nutabe in Colombia; Guarani-kaiowaa, Munduruku, Karipuna and Uru-eu-wau-wau in Brazil; Raramuri and Odami in Mexico; Trinitarian Moxeño and Torewa in Bolivia; or Ashaninka and Tikuna in Peru.

The database also shows 148 cases of violence against Afro-descendant populations and 105 against the Garifuna, also of African origin, in Honduras. Three of our investigations show attacks suffered by Afro-descendant communities in the Colombian Pacific and Northeastern Brazil.

What They Defend

Although in many cases environmental leaders try to protect more than one natural resource, in this research we took into consideration the main resource they defend.

Likewise, in many cases, leaders and communities have been defending themselves against several kinds of stakeholders. Our investigation only considered the main sectors affecting the struggling communities, ranging from agribusiness, oil, mining, hydropower and roads, to drug trafficking and illegal timber trade.

These are the main types of violence suffered by leaders. It’s worth noting that, in several cases, leaders or communities have suffered more than one event; therefore, we marked either the gravest event or the first in time.

Amazonia, the Epicenter of Attacks

More than half of our reports investigated violence against leaders, communities and park rangers in the Amazon region in six different countries.

These 16 stories show how dozens of indigenous territories, ancestral communities and national parks throughout the Amazon basin are targeted by attacks and criminal interests. We found and documented cases of settlers invading communal lands, the military attacking indigenous leaders, oil companies omitting responsibility for contaminated water sources, drug traffickers forcing communities to grow coca, park rangers murdered for fulfilling their calling to preserve collective heritage, and woodcutters harassing those who protect the species they covet.

The Hardest Part

The most difficult information to collect was the status of cases within the judicial system. We only found conclusive data from judicial decisions (either convictions, acquittals or pardons) in 303 cases (12,8% of the total) showing that justice is in debt with environmental advocates.

In many of these cases, sentences punish only the perpetrators, but not the masterminds. Such was case with the sentences in Mexico and Honduras regarding the murderers of Isidro Baldenegro and Berta Caceres, both recipients of the Goldman Environmental Prize. In over 1,000 cases -46% of the total-, we found no information on the investigations’ status.

Equally alarming were the findings indicating that, at least in 1,325 cases (or 56% of the total) risk reports were previously filed before authorities, including State institutions and international bodies, by the victims and their communities.

Our research found that even bringing a case before the Inter-American Commission or Court of Human Rights, the two bodies in charge of watching over human rights in Latin America, doesn’t always lead to effective protection measures.

Tragically, despite popular wisdom indicating that forewarned soldiers should not die in war, violence against leaders has continued or even escalated in five countries –Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela– where States didn’t do enough to protect them, despite precautionary measures or international level risk alerts.

Although our measurement is not scientific but journalistic, the two most violent years were 2017 (13.9%) and 2018 (10%). 2019 accounted for 7.4% of them, even though many sources hadn’t yet concluded their investigations at the time of publication. The murder of several indigenous leaders in Brazil, Mexico and Colombia in March 2020 shows that not even the COVID-19 pandemic managed to stop violence.

These advocates not only protect the land that gives them life, but also mountains that provide us with water and forests that clean the air from cities. They're being threatened and murdered at a frightening rate. They’re more than a number. These are their tales of struggle and resistance.



The Siona Governors and Their Disputed Territory

On the Ecuadorian border, two Siona women –Milena Payoguaje and Martha Liliana Piaguaje– govern indigenous territories within one of Colombia's most disputed areas. There is a company seeking to extract oil and seismic explosives appeared within their land.

The water reaches her shin, about ten centimeters from the edge of her rubber boots. Her waterproof pants are already wet. On the belt, he carries a machete and a pouch to store essential objects. The governor of the Santa Cruz de Piñuña Blanco reservation, Martha Liliana Piaguaje, carries her baton across her chest as she records on her cell phone camera one of the points where the company Amerisur Resources (recently sold to Chilean company Geopark) installed Sismigel explosive charges to carry out seismic studies.

This photo was taken in early October 2019, when Liliana and her indigenous guard went to their reservation’s limits with representatives of Amerisur and the Ministry of Interior, among other officials of Corpoamazonia and other local authorities, to tell them that the company should never have buried that material there. The company states the explosives are outside Siona indigenous territory, but Liliana and her colleagues claim they have evidence to prove that Amerisur crossed the reservation’s limits, two hours downstream from Puerto Asis, on the Putumayo River.


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“Attacks against indigenous communities aim to militarize our territory”

Lisa Henrito has been accused of secessionism and treason by the Venezuelan military high command, which triggered urgent action by Amnesty International. In a context of predominantly male leadership, she stands out in a region threatened by mining and smuggling, as well as for her tenacity in defending her people’s land.

A short woman with long, dark hair faces a major of the Venezuelan Army who is guarded by three men in olive-green uniforms. Neither the men’s insignias nor height seem to intimidate her. "If you want to do in this municipality what you are doing in the rest of the country, you are very much mistaken, because there is a people here and we'ren’t going to allow it," she tells him, defiantly. With strong, determined mannerisms, she stands her ground in the argument with the military man who was trying to get past an indigenous checkpoint on a road in Great Savanna, Southeastern Venezuela. "You are looking out for your own interests. We're defending ours. You know full well who are corrupt here and now you are trying to accuse an entire people," said the woman in an anonymous video.

The woman who firmly achieved the military’s withdrawal from the road is Lisa Lynn Henrito Percy, a native female leader of the Pemon indigenous people, who have lived in the territory demarcated as Venezuela’s southern state of Bolívar (bordering with Guyana and Brazil) since ancient times.


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Death and Oblivion in the Tolupan forest

The Tolupan San Francisco de Locomapa Tribe, in Yoro, Honduras, has suffered murders, judicial harassment and attacks due to its opposition to electricity projects in their territory, which is now in dispute. In the past 20 years, 40 Tolupan indigenous persons were murdered and its population faces its own extermination.

Consuelo Soto speaks always looking at the other side of the street, as if expecting another attack from the members of her community who have harassed her for years. A couple of weeks ago, she was threatened again. She answers questions almost whispering, in front of her house, which preserves the memory of the violence perpetrated against the tribe.

Consuelo is one of the Tolupan leaders facing threats and attacks for defending the Tolupan territory of San Francisco de Locomapa in the Yoro department, North Honduras. The conflict within the tribe was triggered in 2009 when two companies, Venta Local de Madera y Transformación Ocotillo (Velomato) and Industria Maderera Rene Eleazar (Inmare) along with the National Institute for the Preservation and Development of Forests, Protected Areas and Wildlife (ICF) developed forest management plans giving rise to the sale of wood extracted from forests located within Tolupan territory.


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White gold: The water dispute

For some years, the Puna desert in North Argentina has been experiencing a particular mutation. Near the crossroads of national routes 52 and 70, at a height of 4,000 mts, a bunch of channels spread out for 14 kilometers connecting the Cauchari – Olaroz basin with the lithium carbonate plant owned by Exar, a mining company. They're about the width of a person and, in 2021, when extraction starts, thousands of liters of brine per day will go through them until reaching the evaporation stream pools.

Once they have dried, the lithium carbonate will go to several destinations, mainly the United States, China and Japan. These countries are going to convert it into lithium ion to be used by almost the entire light technological industry we carry in

our backpacks: tablets, cellphones, notebooks and, in particular, the production of batteries for electrical cars. Exar’s forecasts (owned by Chinese and Canadian capitals) indicates that this basin has reserves to produce a total of 40,000 tons of lithium carbonate a year for 40 years and they have already announced an initial investment of USD 565 million. Just in Jujuy province, 13 projects of this kind are now operational.

Cristian Aragón owns a contractor company that mining extraction sells supplies, in particular for works in the salt flats. In this project, he is responsible for building a part of the external pipe through which Exar is going to transport the brine.

Now, he stands at in the security cabin that controls the employee’s access to Exar’s plant. He is waiting for a ride, smokes, and wears black sunglasses, a grey shirt, a silk kerchief around the neck, blue jeans, working boots, and carries a crocodile leather bag that matches another couple of boots made of the same material.


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