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.