Mexico: violence continues against ecologists and indigenous communities

Mexican environmental activists Eva Alarcón and Marcial Bautista were reportedly still alive as of Dec. 21, two weeks after their Dec. 7 kidnapping from a bus in the southwestern state of Guerrero. According to Francisco Saucedo—an adviser to their group, the Guerrero-based Organization of Ecologist Campesinos of the Sierra de Petatlán and Coyuca de Catalán (OCESP)—officials of the state government supplied the information during a meeting with Alarcón's daughter, Coral Rosas, and Bautista's daughter, Victoria Bautista, but said that giving out more information might cause problems.

Founded in 1998, OCESP has led struggles against deforestation in the Petatlán highlands, where campesino and indigenous organizations regularly face harassment and violence from drug traffickers, state police agents, federal soldiers, and goons allegedly working for logging companies and big landowners. The attacks against OCESP members included the May 2005 murder of two children of an OCESP leader, Albertano Penalosa Domínguez. The group's founder, Chico Mendes award winner Felipe Arreaga Sanchez, was imprisoned from November 2004 to September 2005 on murder charges that were dismissed after the case received international publicity. (Arreaga died in a traffic accident in September 2009.)

The mysterious disappearance of 17 people, including nine children, from the Guerrero community of Cerro Verde, on Dec. 18 may be connected to the Alarcón and Bautista kidnapping. The disappeared, members of four different families, were located in nearby Tecpan de Galeana on Dec. 22. According to a relative, Ignacio Salto Villa, 15 armed men broke into the four families' homes, saying the family members were "Marcial Bautista's people." The families actually belong to a different organization, the Hermenegildo Galeana Free Front, Salto Villa told a reporter, describing the front as "a group of campesinos who care for and protect some 300 hectares of pine groves and green areas." The four families were treated relatively well and were never threatened, according to Salto Villa, who charged that Federal agents and soldiers were involved in the kidnapping. (La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 22; Amnesty International, Sept. 21; AFP, Dec. 22, via Univision; Milenio, Mexico, Dec. 23)

Alarcón and Marcial are also members of the Movement for Peace With Justice and Dignity (MPJD), formed this year to oppose President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa's militarized fight against the drug cartels. Two other MPJD members were murdered recently in the neighboring state of Michoacán: Trinidad de la Cruz Crisóstomo ("Don Trino"), who was found dead on Dec. 7, and Pedro Leyva Domínguez, who was killed on Oct. 6.

Leyva and De la Cruz were leaders of Xayakalan (or Xayacalan), a community founded in the summer of 2009 by indigenous Nahua from Santa María Ostula who occupied disputed land near the Pacific coast and were then granted more than 1,000 hectares by Michoacán's state government. (The creation of the community is the subject of a brief video by Notilibertas, apparently a Mexican media collective.) But the community quickly became the target of drug gangs that want to control the area; landowners that dispute the community's right to the land may also be involved. In September 2010 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), the human rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), issued a precautionary measure (No. 264-10) calling on the state and federal governments to work with the Xayakalan community to provide protection for its members.

So far the IACHR's efforts have had little effect. Leyva was murdered shortly after a September meeting with an IACHR delegation about the precautionary measure; De la Cruz was murdered shortly after a Nov. 28 meeting with state and local authorities on protecting the community. Xayakalan residents say De la Cruz was the 28th community member to be killed. Of the 300 families that originally made up the community, all but 30 have left. (LJ, Dec. 22)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 25.

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