Javiera Rojas: Chilean environmental activist who opposed dam projects found dead with hands and feet bound

43-year-old environmental activist Javiera Rojas was found dead in an abandoned house at Chile’s Calama city (Screengrab/YouTube/24horas.cl)

The body of an environmental activist has been found buried under a pile of clothes in an abandoned house in Chile.

Police found Javiera Rojas, 43, with her hands and feet tied in one of the rooms in the house on Sunday in Calama city, which is in the country’s northern Antofagasta region.

Investigators said there were multiple wounds on her body. Neighbours had alerted Chilean authorities.

In her country, Rojas was known for opposing dams and defended the lands of the town of El Durazno, located in the Coquimbo region’s Cogotí valley. Rojas was against the installation of the La Tranca reservoir, the country’s Elmostrador newspaper reported.

She had said the installation of the reservoir would mean flooding half of the town.

Gonzalo Gómez, a spokesperson for the Valle de El Durazno Ecological Group — formed against the construction of the reservoir and chaired by Rojas — had said that the town was already flooding as a result of the reservoir, which was why people were against it, according to a quote from 2017 cited by Elmostrador.

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Two men have been detained by the Chilean police — including Rojas’ partner — in connection with the murder.

Lawmakers have called on the government to launch an investigation into her murder. Catalina Perez, the Antofagasta deputy, said in a tweet in Spanish that “whether the result of femicide or because of her activism, it is very serious.”

Congressman Daniel Núñez also tweeted, describing Rojas’ death as “outrageous.”

Yasna Provoste, a senator and former presidential candidate of the centre-left New Social Pact coalition of parties, said the activist’s death “must be investigated in-depth and promptly. Her case cannot go unpunished. My condolences to her family and colleagues in defence of the environment.”

An environmental organisation, Movimiento por el Agua y Los Territorios or Movement for Water and Territories (MAT), said in a statement that “violence is permanent in those territories, and can reach such horrific instances as the one experienced by our partner, making visible the cruel alliance that exists between activism and patriarchy.”

Commissioner Roberto Paz from the Calama police department told local outlet El Referente that “it was possible to identify two defendants, one of Chilean nationality and the other of Venezuelan nationality, both of legal age who were detained within hours of the dawn of this Monday, 29 of November and put at the disposal of the Court of Guarantee of Calama.”

“It is the subject of an investigation, both went through the crime of homicide, but it is being investigated whether there was any emotional link between the victim and one of the defendants in order to see a possible change in the classification of this crime,” he added.

Francisca Fernandez of MAT said women activists in Chile were used to threats and said women workers especially were attacked physically. “We must consider that [Rojas’s] position as a social-environmental fighter made her even more exposed to violence,” she said.

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