Tuesday, May 17

Mexican environmental activist missing after attack on villagers | Global development

A Mexican environmental activist was declared missing just a week after a savage attack on indigenous villagers displaced from the lands she defended against illegal logging.

Irma Galindo Barrios, a member of the Mixtec indigenous people (ñuù savi) who worked to protect forests in southern Oaxaca state, was last heard on October 27. She was scheduled to attend a virtual meeting so she could join a state mechanism to protect journalists and defenders, but did not attend, according to Rosi Bustamante, a US-based activist who had been in close contact with Galindo.

Earlier that day, Galindo tried to present a petition to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the National Palace in Mexico City, but said it was rejected.

“There is no government official who is going to see how we live… They only send money that is used to buy weapons that are used to kill us. If there are organizations or groups that want to help us, they end up being criminalized, threatened and harassed, ”Galindo wrote on his Facebook page just before his disappearance. “Where does this end? Whats Next?”

Galindo’s disappearance reinforces Mexico’s reputation as a country where environmental activists are frequently the target of assassinations.

The Mexican Center for Environmental Law counted 65 attacks on environmental defenders in 2020 and 18 murders, a sharp increase from 39 attacks in 2019, with “structural and widespread violence against those who defend nature, land and territory,” according to the report.

Meanwhile, deforestation continues throughout Mexico, despite a federal government program to pay people in rural areas to plant fruit and timber trees in southern Mexico.

Galindo’s disappearance was preceded by a wave of terrible violence in his native municipality of San Sebastián Atatlahuca.

During a three-day period, from October 21 to 23, the attackers descended on the three communities that were cut down, leaving two dead, four missing and 90 houses burned, according to Oaxaca human rights lawyer Maurilio Santiago Reyes, who worked in close collaboration with Galindo.

Oaxaca media reported at least seven deaths, including a pair of 95-year-old residents, and described an assault carried out by 70 people with high-caliber weapons.

Galindo previously served in the municipal government as a councilor responsible for cultural promotion in San Sebastián Atatlahuca, according to Santiago Reyes. But then he focused his efforts on defending the pine forests in the mountains of the Mixtec region of Oaxaca, and developed enemies for his activism.

In 2018, loggers moved to three communities in the San Sebastián Atatlahuca municipality, allegedly with the protection of the local government. A group of neighbors burned her house that year, forcing her to flee into the forest.

She asked local, state and federal officials to intervene when logging devastated the local forest. Deforestation was removing a source of income through sustainable logging and elimination of a food source as residents searched the hills for fungi, which supplemented their diets. But no action was taken, according to Santiago Reyes. State and federal officials also did not intervene.

“The problem in Oaxaca is that there is enormous complicity between groups with political power, which sometimes control an area, and it is assumed that people benefit from these natural resources,” said Santiago Reyes. “No one ever responded to the complaints that were made.”


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