07/10/20 (written by CMurray) – During the early morning of June 21, 2020, 15 people were murdered in the municipality of San Mateo del Mar in Oaxaca, where a majority of the population identifies with the Ikoots indigenous people (Graham). State prosecutors announced that the victims, including 13 men and two women, were tortured and burned alive by armed attackers. Residents of San Mateo del Mar have claimed that the attack was orchestrated by the mayor’s supporters, who were upset about opposition towards large scale wind power projects within the region (Associated Press). The brutal attack was believed to have originated at a COVID-19 checkpoint where a group of around seven individuals initiated the attack on local dissidents (Chaca). Following the assault, the governor of Oaxaca, Alejandro Murat Hinojosa, confirmed the deployment of a security operation to the municipality in an effort to mitigate continued violence (La Jornada). According to El Universal, the security deployment included four detectives, 80 state police, and 39 National Guard members who were ultimately only able to rescue two men. Although no suspects have been identified, the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) stated that officials need to “determine the exercise of criminal action, with respect to the facts constituting offenses and the probable responsibility of the people involved” [author’s own translation]. The indigenous population within San Mateo del Mar has been the subject of various disputes during the past several years, most of which are related to land rights.
In January 2018, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that a large-scale wind energy project be suspended after it failed to gain sufficient support from the local Zapotec community in the town of Juchitán (Mexico News Daily). Proponents of the infrastructure project, headed by Energía Eólica del Sur (Southern Wind Energy), were insistent that the $1.2 billion project would be profitable for the state and make it the largest wind park of its kind in Latin America (Mexico News Daily). In November of 2017, Governor Murat, attended the official groundbreaking ceremony and affirmed that the project was approved by local communities despite not having gone through the proper channels. A report that specifically addressed the Bíi Hioxo wind park in Juchitán argues that increased efforts to combat global warming through renewable energy resources have subsequently ignored indigenous groups’ territorial claims. There have been efforts on behalf of state authorities as well as private organizations to wage counterinsurgency tactics against indigenous groups that oppose the construction of these large energy projects. One local woman commented that these forms of clean energy could not possibly promote sustainability when they were also responsible for deforestation, polluting groundwater, and eliminating natural forms of medicine. Based on the legal precedent set forth by Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization, judges within the Mexican Supreme Court issued their ruling in favor of the indigenous community. This Convention states that native communities are guaranteed land rights as well as the ability to participate in managing and conserving the land that they safeguard. Despite the court ruling, tensions continue to rise in respect to the issue of land rights in the area, because although the project promises to generate around 1,500 new jobs, it jeopardizes the autonomy of indigenous land in the region (Rodríguez).
Environmental Violence in Oaxaca
The state of Oaxaca continues to be a hub for violence perpetrated against environmental activists, many of whom hail from indigenous communities. On May 7th of this year, 21 year old environmental activist, Eugui Roy Martínez Pérez was found murdered at a ranch in the town of San Agustín Loxicha. He was a student at the Technological Institute of the Valley of Oaxaca (Instituto Tecnológico del Valle de Oaxaca) and was reported to have been an outspoken supporter for environmental advocacy (Miranda). According to the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental, CEMDA), 460 cases of aggression against environmentalists were reported between 2012 to 2018. Of these 460 cases, Oaxaca led with the highest number of reported attacks at 79. Additionally, 29% of all reported cases were associated with energy projects, of which 53 out of 460 constituted wind energy-specific cases (CEMDA).
Due to continued violent attacks against indigenous groups, especially within Oaxaca the past few years, many are calling for increased accountability from the government. The brutal assassinations that took place within San Mateo Del Mar are just some of the more recent attacks being perpetrated against indigenous communities that oppose these large scale energy projects. These communities have received support from the Mexican Supreme Court and human rights groups such as the Committee for the Integral Defence of Human Rights (Comité de Defensa Integral de Derechos Humanos, Gobixha, CODIGO DH), but still face the prospect of highly volatile attacks from those that oppose their territorial claims.
05/26/20 (written by mvillaseñor in collaboration with aherrera) – Mexican environmental activists have increasingly been under attack. Just in the last five months, at least six environmental activists have been murdered. According to a 2019 report from the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental, CEMDA), homicides are increasingly becoming the primary form of attack against environmental activists in the country. According to the report, environmental activists are at a particularly high risk of retribution due to their vocal criticism against political and economic interests, such as large infrastructure projects and developments.
2012 and 2019, Mexico has seen a total of at least 499 attacks against environmental
activists, including but not limited to threats, criminalization, assault, and
homicide. According to data from CEMDA, the number of attacks gradually
increased from 24 in 2012, 64 in 2013 and 78 in 2014 to its peak of 107 in 2015
and 85 in 2016. This represents a 346% increase in attacks against
environmental activists from 2012 to 2015.
Mexico’s Energy Reform
These observed increases in attacks
against environmental activists coincide with the implementation of Mexico’s
energy reform. In
fact, the aforementioned 2019 report from CEMDA notes the ratification of the
energy reform as a relevant factor in the significant increase in homicides of
environmental activists. The energy reform was first introduced by Enrique Peña
Nieto on August 12, 2013. The reform was backed by his political party, the
Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido
Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) as well as the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) and was
intended to modify the constitution to allow foreign investment in its energy
sector. Prior to the energy reform, state-owned Mexican Petroleum (Petróleos Mexicanos, PEMEX) ran the
country’s energy industry after President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río expropriated Mexico’s
oil sector in 1938. The constitutional reform was debated by congress and
approved on December 12, 2013. This was the first time in 75 years that private
and foreign investment became allowable in Mexico’s energy sector. On August
2014, further legislation was approved that leveled the playing field for all investors
in the sector.
more about Mexico’s New Energy Reform in this 2018 report from the Mexico Center
at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
more here about how legislation from the
Energy Reform has impacted transparency and human rights as well as infringed
on citizen participation at the local and national level.
Increase in Attacks Against Environmental Activists
the number of attacks has been decreasing with
53 in 2017, 49 in 2018, and most recently 39 in 2019. However, homicides,
within this time span, have seen an increase. According to CEMDA, in 2019,
homicide was the primary form of aggression with 21.1% of incidences resulting
in death, followed by threats with 19.3%, criminalization with 15.8%, and
intimidation with 14%. Moreover, CEMDA points out that the primary aggressor is
often the government itself. CEMDA attributed 40.5% of overall attacks
committed towards environmentalist in 2019 to the government, tied with
unidentified aggressors and followed by community members and organized crime
each with 4.8%. Attacks perpetrated by the government are primarily attributed
to local prosecutors, the National Guard (Guardia
Nacional), and state police.
Environmental Activist Homicides in 2020
has lost at least six environmental activists in 2020. The first case surrounds
the murder of 50-year-old Homero Gómez González, an outspoken critic of illegal
logging and manager of El Rosario’s monarch butterfly sanctuary in the state of
Michoacán. He was last seen on January 13 and was found dead
more than two weeks later on January 29. His body was floating in a holding
pond near the mountain forest reserve Gómez González was protecting. Initial
reports from Michoacán’s state prosecutors pointed to drowning as the cause of
death, but a more detailed autopsy later revealed evidence of a head injury.
Days before Gómez González was found, another environmental activist from the
same region was reported missing. Raúl Hernández Romero, a 44-year-old conservation
activist and part-time tour guide at El Rosario was reported missing on January
27. His body was found five days later at the top of a hill in El Campanario
monarch butterfly sanctuary. According to news reports, he too had a head injury and his
body was covered in bruises.
the deaths of these two activists, a third activist was reported missing on
March 19, 2020. Paulina Gómez Palacios Escudero, a 50-year-old environmental
activist from the state of San Luis Potosí disappeared when she was traveling
from Matehuala in her home state to the community of El Salvador in the
neighboring state of Zacatecas. Her body was later found on March 22, according
to the autopsy, she died from a gunshot wound to the face. She was considered a guardian of the sacred territory
Wirikuta and a friend of the indigenous community, Wixárika. According to a
report published by Intercontinental Cry, the Wixárika community has been
actively fighting for years to protect their sacred lands from mining
companies. On September 2013, a federal district judge approved a temporary
suspension on all concessions to mining companies in the sacred territory of
Wirikuta. In 2009, 36 concessions had been granted to
Canadian mining company, First Majestic Silver, 70% of these concessions were
within the Wirikuta territory.
day after Gómez Palacio Escudero’s body was found, the fourth environmental
activist was murdered. On March 23, 2020, Isaac Medardo Herrera Aviles was murdered in his home in
Jiutepec, Morelos when gunmen knocked at his door and shot him point blank,
fleeing the scene before they could be apprehended. Herrera Aviles was a
longtime activist and lawyer in the state of Morelos. Most recently he had
stopped the company, Casas Ara, from developing a real estate project in the
premises of “Los Venados,” a 56,000 square meter forest in the middle of Jiutepec. Herrera
Aviles and community members had successfully stopped the project and were
waiting for local authorities to deem the land a natural reserve. In 2007, the activist had legally
represented advocates of 13 communities who were attempting to stop another
real estate development project in Emiliano Zapata, Morelos, near the
Chihuahuita natural spring where developers were also seeking to extract the
Two weeks later, Adán Vez
Lira became the fifth environmental activist to be
murdered in Mexico. He was from the state of Veracruz and founder of the
ecotourism cooperative, “La Mancha en Movimiento”. According to news reports,
Vez Lira was shot to death on April 8 while
riding his motorcycle from La Mancha to Palmas de Abajo, Veracruz. He had
dedicated more than two decades of his life to defending the bird observatory
in La Mancha Ecological Reserve and El Llano. According to the Business &
Human Rights Resource Centre, he had also actively opposed mining projects by
Almaden Minerals and Candelaria Mining, both Canadian mining companies with interests
in the region.
The most recent homicide targeted Eugui Roy
Martínez Pérez, a 21-year-old environmental activist from the state
of Oaxaca murdered in San Agustín Loxicha, Oaxaca. Martínez Pérez was studying
biology at the Technological Institute of the Valley of Oaxaca (Instituto Tecnológico del Valle de Oaxaca,
ITVO) and was a member of the Organization for Environmental Protection in
Oaxaca. Additionally, people close to Martínez Pérez indicated he had a
particular passion for the care, defense, and conservation of reptiles and
amphibians. According to Oaxaca’s
Attorney General office, he was murdered on May 7 when a
group of armed individuals forcefully entered his home and removed him from the
premises. He was later found nearby with signs of torture and a gunshot
wound. According to his sister, Martínez
Pérez decided to spend his quarantine in San Agustín Loxicha, “collecting
insects, studying, writing for a magazine, looking after a few deer’s, [in
addition to] creating content for his blog.”
Mexico’s current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has called these deaths “regrettable” and “painful,” but human rights groups are demanding the government do more. For example, the Center for Human Rights Zeferino Ladrillero is asking the government to prioritize the lives of individuals defending the environment, land, forests, and water over the interest of private entities. Others are calling for better monitoring and prevention mechanisms to protect marginalized communities, particularly indigenous groups, who are vulnerable to the loss of land and private interest groups entering their territory. Furthermore, environmental activists point out that at least 80% of activists murdered defending the environment have been indigenous. A recent released report from Front Line Defenders, an international foundation based in Ireland that seeks to protect human rights around the globe, showed Mexico and Brazil tied as the fourth most dangerous countries in the world for activists. However, it is worth noting that Front Line Defenders’ report encompasses all human rights activists, not only environmentalists. Nonetheless, looking forward, it is imperative that the government analyze and address the divisive culture it is promoting against activists.