Peru, 2015, ended with the murder of an environmental activist.
On his way home from a protest against a hydroelectric project, 34-year-old Hitler Rojas Gonzales was shot dead. The killing took place on December 28 in the village of Yagén in the north of the country. Rojas had recently been elected mayor of Yagén and was a local leader of environmental and peasant defense actions.
A man named Alejandro Rodriguez Garcia, the husband of Rojas’ first cousin, has been convicted of the murder. He has been sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay a sum of around $8,700 to the victim’s family.
A message to the activists: Defend your environment and die
Hitler Rojas was the president of the Frente de Defensa del Río Marañón, a group that opposes the construction of the Chadin II hydroelectric plant, set to be built by the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht SA. Peru-based Odebrecht subsidiary AC Energía is planning the construction of 20 such hydroelectric plants throughout the Marañón River basin. Chadin II is among the most advanced of the projects that are being constructed in order to generate power for various mining projects in the area, such as the controversial Conga mine.
The killing of Hitler Rojas is not unique. According to NGO Global Witness, Latin America is the most dangerous region to be an environmental activist, with Brazil in second place for the country with most eco-murders and Peru coming in at number four.
— Rising Tide NA (@RisingTideNA) January 26, 2016
Odebrecht: A litany of crimes
Besides its connection to the Conga mine, back home in Brazil Odebrecht is currently embroiled in the infamous money-laundering investigation known as “Operação Lava Jato” (Operation Car Wash) and in turn linked to the corruption case at the state-controlled oil company Petrobras. Now, in Peru, the Odebrecht name is attached to the murder of a prominent figure in the struggle for environmental and human rights.
Why are activists against hydropower?
The ecological importance of Marañón River is hard to overestimate. It is principal source of the Amazon and the proposed dams could disrupt the flow of this most valuable of rivers, alter silt deposition, damage habitats and change migration patterns for fish other animals as well as displace thousands of people who live along the river and depend on it for their livelihood.
Yet the dams are being marketed as “clean energy”, despite the fact that they will be used to power mining projects.
From a statement by the Yagén Defense Front (via the Guardian):
[Chadin 2] will generate large quantities of methane that contributes enormously to global warming. . . [I]t will destroy almost all the varieties of fish in our river and it will force us out of our lands and displace us into places we don’t know. No project that destroys the natural world and causes social problems can be said to generate clean energy. It is a lie.
Hitler: What’s in a name?
While the given name of Hitler Rojas Gonzales has no connection to his role as an activist or his murder, it is likely to garner attention or at least passing curiosity by international readers of this story. So far I haven’t seen the victim’s name addressed by English articles on the murder in the Guardian or Peruvian Times. So I’m addressing it here.
As a poor peasant in rural Peru, it seems likely that Rojas’ parents simply gave their son a name they’d heard and liked. Of course I have no idea what their politics were, but I doubt they were Nazis of any kind. Perhaps it’s now a family tradition since Hitler Rojas also gave the name to one of his sons.
In countries far flung from the European theater in World War II, including the Philippines, India and some Latin American states, the name Hitler does not have the connotations it does in Europe or the United States. Nonetheless, no name has as much international stigma. And yet people still inherit it and even give it to their kids.
This subject is explored in a new documentary film called Meet the Hitlers.
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