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Killings of environmental and indigenous defenders in Mexico are alarming

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Mexico has recorded at least 28 murders of environmental defenders and indigenous leaders so far this year in an escalation of violence that has set off alarm bells over the increase in murders of activists.

The latest case occurred last week when environmental defender David Díaz Valdez, in the city of Manzanillo, Colima state, and indigenous human rights defender Simón Pedro Pérez López in the municipality of Simojovel, Chiapas state, was shot dead.

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“We are facing an alarming situation,” explained Gabriela Carreon, human rights manager of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA). “The 18 murders in 2020 compared to 14 in half a year in 2021 puts us on alert about how this year will close,” she added.

In a report last April and after eight years of registration and documentation, CEMDA noted that in Mexico, “structural and widespread violence prevails against those who defend the natural heritage, land, and territory.”

In addition to the 18 murders in 2020, the Center counted 90 aggressions perpetrated in 65 different attacks.

, Killings of environmental and indigenous defenders in Mexico are alarming

INDIGENOUS DEFENDERS

Following the murder of Pérez López in Chiapas, the organization Indigenous Peoples Rights International assured that during this year, it had documented 14 fatal victims in retaliation for their struggle to defend their rights in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Michoacán, and Sonora.

“We point out the inaction of the Mexican State at its different levels of government and remind it of its obligation to investigate the murders, provide justice, truth, and measures of non-repetition for the survivors, their families, and the community,” it said.

The organization cited the case of Pérez López, a defender, and member of the Las Abejas de Acteal community, who was shot and killed. It also highlighted another crime in the municipality of Aldama, in the highlands region of Chiapas, which is experiencing a territorial dispute dating back to the 1970s.

He also recalled the murder of the Yaqui indigenous leader Tomás Rojo Valencia, 54 years old, whose remains were found on June 17 after his disappearance was reported on May 27 in Sonora, in the northwest of the country. In the same region, he pointed out the crime of Luis Urbano Domínguez on June 12.

In the case of Oaxaca, the organization pointed out the violence in the indigenous community of Chatin de Paso de la Reyna, municipality of Santiago Jamiltepec, whereas of April, five people had been murdered, including the defenders of territory and the environment, Fidel Heras Cruz and Jaime Jiménez Ruiz.

The same number of murders was registered in Michoacán with “deaths linked to the defense of the territory that these communities have undertaken against the territorial control that organized crime wants to maintain in the territory.”

THE GOVERNMENT’S DEFENSE

Mexico’s Interior Ministry confirmed Monday that at least 68 human rights defenders and 43 journalists had been killed by the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office on December 1, 2018.

The information from the Interior was released after the newspaper Reforma published – citing different organizations and NGOs – that since López Obrador’s arrival to power to date in the country, at least 56 activists had been murdered.

Asked about the number of victims, López Obrador first said that “it is propaganda of our adversaries” and then regretted all the deaths and pointed out that his government is fighting so that this does not happen.

THE CASE OF DAVID DÍAZ VALDEZ

Last July 5, David Díaz Valdez, an environmental defender, was shot to death inside his vehicle in the municipality of Manzanillo, Colima state.

“David always said he had no enemies, people loved him very much, and he said that as citizens and people we had rights and we had to claim them, speak out and say what was wrong,” said Sofía Geovana Arreola, who worked closely with the defender over the last three years.

“He didn’t fight with anyone, he demanded justice, but he never told me he was under threat, that’s why we were surprised by his death,” she added.

Díaz Valdez struggled to improve the conditions of the community where he was born, called Campos, in Manzanillo, which is located in front of the General Manuel Álvarez Moreno thermoelectric plant.

Inaugurated on January 1, 1982, the facility operated in this Pacific Ocean resort by the state-owned Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) has brought many headaches to the population since its construction and the proliferation of diseases during its operation, according to activists.

“She had to grow up with the installation, and her family was the only one whose land could not be taken away because the plant was buying space to expand,” said the woman.

Diaz Valdez studied at the Faculty of Political Science at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where he increased his activism, supported the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, and was also an ally of the now President Lopez Obrador, “who came to his house to stay” as shown by the photos he has in his house with the now-president, whom he helped to found his political movement in Manzanillo.

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