A couple opposed to a mining company’s operations in Sonora was murdered last week and 13 other anti-mining activists were threatened, triggering a call for government protection from an organization that defends the rights of people affected by mining.
The Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (Rema) said in a statement that community landowner José de Jesús Robledo Cruz and his wife María de Jesús Gómez Vega, opponents of the firm Penmont, a subsidiary of Grupo Peñoles, were murdered on April 29 in the municipality of Puerto Peñasco.
The organization said it had no doubt that the murders were committed by people in cahoots with Penmont, owned by billionaire businessmen Alberto Baillères, and Rafael Pavlovich Durazo, uncle of Sonora Governor Claudia Pavlovich. Rema claims that Pavlovich Durazo illegally seized more than 1,800 hectares of land from community landowners.
Penmont has a mine in Caborca, which landowners say encroaches on their land, an ejido known as El Bajío.
Rema said the bodies of Robledo and Gómez were dumped with a sign that made threats against 13 other ejidatarios, or community landowners. Those landowners are clearly at “high risk,” the group said.
The murders occurred within the context of their demand for Penmont to comply with “multiple legal rulings” to pay rents to the ejidatarios “for the illegal occupation of their lands,” return illegally extracted gold to them and pay compensation for environmental damage, Rema said.
It noted that it was not the first time Robledo and Gómez were targeted. They were abducted and tortured in 2017 by hooded and armed men wearing army attire. It also said that landowners have been harassed and suffered acts of violence since 2002, when Penmont first entered El Bajío.
The organization said it took legal action against Penmont and was granted several rulings in its favor but “none of them have been executed.”
“On the contrary, since the first moment of complaint, acts of violence such as … intimidation, arbitrary detentions, homicides, abductions, forced disappearances, the use of public force, dispossession and forced displacement increased,” Rema said.
Robledo, as president of El Bajío, led the landowners’ defense of their ejido against the mining company’s encroachment, the organization said, putting him in direct opposition to “powerful people who are guarantors … in this country for murder and dispossession: Alberto Baillères, a powerful mining businessman and Rafael Pavlovich Durazo, a criminal protected by his niece, the current governor of the state.”
Penmont issued a press release denying any connection to the couple’s deaths.
“Penmont categorically rejects the assertion or insinuation of any kind of link with the criminal acts of this weekend,” the company said in a statement. “It rejects violence in any form and trusts the justice system with the resolution of problems.”
Rema demanded that the federal government “assume its historical responsibility” and protect citizens as well as supervise the actions of the Sonora Attorney General’s Office, which it claimed is complicit with the violence perpetrated against El Bajío landowners.
It also demanded the implementation of protection measures for the 13 landowners who were threatened as well as for other El Bajío ejidatorios and their families.
For a country in which the president says every morning that corruption and impunity are no longer permitted, the murders and other acts of violence against community landowners opposed to mining are “shameful,” Rema said.
“The death of each defender of land is a wound that the political class will not be able to heal, hide or clean,” it said.