Mexico: persecuted peasant ecologists win Sierra Club award

Greenpeace Mexico, Amnesty International and the Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Center presented the Sierra Club’s Chico Mendes Award to Mexican winners Felipe Arreaga Sanchez, Albertano PeƱaloza Dominguez, and Celsa Valdovinos on Aug. 9. Greenpeace Mexico Director Alejandro Calvillo asked the world community to reconsider its willingness to support the tourist industry in Acapulco, given that the international beach resort is in the same state of Guerrero where the winners are being persecuted.

When Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) Gov. Zeferino Torreblanca took office this year, unseating Guerrero’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) dynasty, hope swelled for the cause of the campesino ecologists held hostage to the political and crime bosses entrenched in the state’s political system. But the legacy of the so-called “Dirty War” waged against peasant guerillas in Guerrero some 30 years ago seems to live on in the state’s response to the current ecological struggle.

Arreaga received his award in jail in Zihuatenejo, where he has been held since Nov. 3 on charges of murder and criminal association, in what rights orgaqnizations call a witch-hunt for members of his Campesino Environmentalist Organization of the Sierra of Petatlan and Coyuca de Catalan (OCESP). PeƱaloza, also an OCESP leader, remained in hiding, and his wife, Reyna Mojica, accepted his award at the jail. A May 19 attack at their home killed two of PeƱaloza’s sons. Valdovinos, Arreaga’s wife and the head of the Organization of Women Ecologists of the Sierra of Petatla’n (OMESP), received hers in Mexico City.

This is the second time in President Vicente Fox’s administration that a campesino ecologist won an award in prison. Fox ordered OCESP leaders Rodolfo Montiel Flores and Teodoro Cabrera released from a Guerrero jail in 2001 after Montiel received the international Goldman Environmental Prize in 2000 for the group’s struggle against uncontrolled logging by Boise Cascade Corp. and local bosses in the 1990s.

Isidro Baldenegro Lopez earned the Goldman in April, after being released from jail in Chihuahua state in June 2004 in the wake of mobilizing indigenous and other community members of the Western Sierra Madre against mounting destruction of old-growth forests. Edwin Bustillos also garnered the Goldman in 2003 for opposing illegal logging operations in Chihuahua. (El Universal, Aug. 22 via Chiapas95)

See our last posts on southern Mexico, and ecological struggles in Guerrero and Chihuahua.