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Walter Mendez Barrios

Walter Méndez Barrios

HRD, Founder
Frente Petenero Contra las Represas – FPCR

Walter Méndez Barrios was a well known environmental rights defender, who fought to protect natural resources in communities of the Maya Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de la Biósfera Maya).

On 16 March 2016, he was shot and killed outside his home in Las Cruces, in the department of Petén. Prior to his assassination, Walter Méndez Barrios had recently visited the Boca del Rio Hydroelectric Dam and had been conducting activities to raise awareness about the negative environmental impact of palm oil production in Guatemala, the expansion of which has caused the destruction of the Petén Rainforest. Local human rights organisations report that he had recently received death threats.

Walter was a founding member of Frente Petenero Contra las Represas – FPCR (Petenero Front Against Dams - FPCR), an organisation formed in 2005 to fight for the land rights and the right to water and other natural resources of those affected and threatened by the construction of dams.

He was also the president and legal representative of the Cooperativa La Lucha (La Lucha Cooperative), and a board member of the Asociación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén – ACOFOP (Association of Forest Communities of Petén). Both groups advocate for the improvement of the quality of life of indigenous and rural communities through community forest management and the sustainable use of the resources.

Since Otto Pérez Molina assumed the role of President in January 2012, cases of harassment and threats against HRDs have been on the rise. Human rights defenders (HRDs) in Guatemala are subjected to death threats, physical attacks, acts of harassment, surveillance, stigmatisation, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention, forced disappearance and killings. Many of the violations are carried out by clandestine security structures and illegal groups. The exceptionally high level of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators increases the risk exponentially for HRDs.