EFEPanama City

In Panama, "the first to disrespect nature are the officials appointed to defend it," according to Ligia Arreaga, an environmentalist engaged in activism for a decade on behalf of the rainforest of Darien that spreads across Panama's border with Colombia.

The Central American country has "extraordinarily good" laws, what is lacking are decent officials ready to enforce them at the risk of their jobs and their lives," Arreaga told EFE.

The journalist and activist said she has received death threats since 2009 for defending the Matusagarati Wetlands Lagoon, an ecosystem connected with the Pacific Ocean, on which hundreds of species depend - some in danger of extinction - and that for the past nine years has been invaded by farmers planting crops with the consent of the government.

"Panama's judiciary is very corrupt, so they could put me in jail tomorrow," she said fearlessly.

The intimidating messages she has received demand that she abandon the struggle to end the exploitation of the lagoon, a problem that began with the privatizing of property within the ecosystem during the governments of Martin Torrijos (2004-2009) and Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014).

Since then, a large part of the wetlands has slowly been drying up, with the dredging of artificial slopes in the Tuira River, one of Darien's most important and which depends on its relation with the lagoon to avoid becoming saline and thus condemn the lives and livelihood of local peasants.

The lowering of the water level, which already affects the moisture of the surrounding soil, was necessary to permit rice crops and then oil palm plantations, which cause the greatest damage to the environment and have violently invaded areas of neighboring Colombia financed by paramilitary groups.

While Arreaga and her organization, the Alliance for a Better Darien, continue their fight to convince the government to close the irrigation channels that drain away the treasure of Matusagarati, its water, she will continue demanding that the refuge be named a protected area and a Wetland of International Importance.

But today Matusagarati warns of what its disappearance means by the state of soil it no longer waters, of fish that depend on its depths to spawn, and of the jaguars and anteaters that drink its scarce waters.

By Elisa Vasquez.