A dozen men armed with assault rifles killed two children of a man who belongs to a peasant ecologist group in Mexico’s Pacific coast state of Guerrero May 19, and soldiers arrested three members of the same group on weapons charges the following day. The shooting attack, which also wounded the boys’ father, Alberto Peñaloza, and two older sons, occurred in the Sierra Petatlan, the scene of a decade-long struggle between loggers and campesinos. Peñaloza is a founder of the local Organization of Campesino Ecologists, which has blockaded logging trucks on the mountain roads.
The two boys, aged seven and eight, died at the scene of the ambush shooting at Peñaloza’s home. Peñaloza and his two other sons are recovering from their wounds at a local hospital. The attackers escaped in at least two vehicles.
Mexican army troops sent into the Sierra to find the attackers May 20 instead detained three other members of the Organization of Campesino Ecologists on suspicion of illegal weapons possession.
Peñaloza himself faces charges in a 1998 homicide that human rights groups have depicted as a trumped-up case aimed at smearing the anti-logging movement. Two other peasant ecologists from Petatlan, Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, were imprisoned on drug charges in 1999. An international campaign by rights groups led the government to release them in 2002.
The peasants have frequently accused local landholder Bernardino Bautista Valle of attacking them. Bautista’s son, Abel Bautista, was killed on May 30, 1998; Peñaloza and 13 other ecologist farmers, including imprisoned suspect Felipe Arreaga, were charged in that killing. Like Montiel and Cabrera, Arreaga has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.
The peasant ecologists’ group have angered local logging interests with their militant unarmed campaign against timber-cutting that has denuded mountainsides and destroyed watersheds in much of the rugged, impoverished region northwest of Acapulco.
Activists have expressed hope that new Guerrero Gov. Zeferino Torreblanca, who defeated the old ruling party and took office on April 1 with the backing of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), will re-examine the case. (El Universal, May 21)
Digna Ochoa, the attorney representing Montiel and Cabrera, was shot and killed in her Mexico City office in 2001. Several members of her legal collective, the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (PRODH) received death threats after her murder. In two investigations by Mexico City prosecutors, authorities determined that Ochoa had committed suicide, despite evidence suggesting that she was murdered. When found dead, Ochoa had been shot twice, including once in the knee, and an anonymous note was found at the scene threatening additional attacks against human rights campaigners. In February 2005, Mexico City attorney general Bernardo Batiz agreed to re-examine the forensic evidence in the case. (Human Rights First, February 2005)
Funds are needed to pay for forensic experts. Donations can be made directly to Banamex in the name of Jose Raul Vera Lopez, Cuenta # 5396030, Sucursal 124
For more information, see the Comite Digna.
See also WW4 REPORT #92, for our last update on the Digna Ochoa case, and our last post on repression against peasant ecologists in Mexico, and on political violence in Guerrero.
More details emerge
On May 26, El Universal ran a follow-up story with quotes from Peñaloza’s wife.
“I was screaming at them not to shoot,” said Reyna Mojica, the wife of Albertano Peñaloza, a founder of the embattled Organization of Peasant Ecologists in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero. “Even with me screaming, with my children, they still kept firing hard.”
“I ran [outside] and saw they were shooting at the truck,” said Mojica, who insisted her husband and sons never carried arms. “I turned at the truck. I didn’t see anything from outside. I opened the door of the car, and there was my older son. He was dead, torn apart. My little son of 9 years was there too. The same, with his face unrecognizable.”
Arreaga’s wife, Celsa Valdovinos, sat beside Mojica at a press conference in Mexico City, saying she feared for her safety in Guerrero. Valdovinos and Mojica were scheduled to meet with the Guerrero state prosecutors later on the day of the attack, they said.
Meanwhile, AP noted May 25 that Amnesty International’s 2005 annual report notes a lack of progress on human rights in Mexico. Torture, illegal arrests and other violations of human rights remain common in Mexico, despite the supposed federal commitment to ending abuses. The report acknowledged government initiatives to bring Mexico into line with international standards on human rights, but chided the country’s congress for “lack of commitment to the human rights reforms.” It noted continuing kidnappings and the still-unsolved slayings of women in Ciudad Juarez, where more than 350 women have been killed since 1993. Two additional slayings were reported there on May 24 even as officials were investigating the killings of two young girls in the area. Amnesty International said it has “serious concerns” at the lack of punishment for officials implicated in abusese. The report found that torture and arbitrary arrests continue to be widespread at state levels, and it mentioned the widely criticized arrests of demonstrators during the European-Latin American summit in May 2004 in Guadalajara. (See WW4 REPORT #100) It noted that state officials refused to investigate despite recommendations by the National Human Rights Commission.