Monday, May 20, 2024

Report shows 20 environmental activists were killed in Mexico in 2023

Environmental activists in Mexico continue to face violence despite a slight decrease in attacks in 2023 compared to the previous year, according to a report released this week by the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA).

The report found 20 lethal attacks against environmental activists in 2023, which represents the fifth-highest number documented by CEMDA in the past decade. In 2022, the figure was 24.

Michoacán topped the list with seven victims, including Eustacio Alcalá Díaz, a 68-year-old Indigenous activist who was murdered last April. He was a community leader in Huitzontla, a village in the Michoacán highlands, who had been fighting against mining projects that were disfiguring the land and depleting natural resources.

For years, the Indigenous communities of Michoacán have fought against mining and illegal logging of the mountain region’s pine and fir forests. Loggers often cut down trees to plant avocados.

Guerrero was second on the list with six murders, followed by México state and Oaxaca with two each. Hidalgo, Sonora and Jalisco each had one.

Overall, CEMDA documented 123 acts of aggression that targeted activists, communities and Indigenous peoples in 2023. These attacks, which included threats, intimidation, physical assaults and kidnappings, were most prevalent in Jalisco (20), Oaxaca (19) and Mexico City (12).

Eustacio Alcalá Díaz
Eustacio Alcalá Díaz was one of 20 environmental activists murdered in 2023. (@redsolidariaDH/Twitter)

“While the total number of attacks recorded in 2023 decreased compared to [197 in] 2022, these are still high and unacceptable figures,” the report stated.

The report criticized the Mexican government’s failure to fulfill its obligations under the Escazú Agreement, an international treaty requiring signatory countries to protect environmental activists. The Mexican Senate ratified the pact in 2020.

“Mexico must guarantee a safe environment for activists to carry out their work,” said Gustavo Alanís Ortega, executive director of CEMDA. “As of today, there is a total omission on the part of the government.”

CEMDA, a nonprofit and non-governmental organization, has been working for the defense of the environment and natural resources since it was founded in 1993 in conjunction with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Fallen lumber
The disappearance and deaths of environmental activists often occurs in conjunction with illegal mining, logging and other illicit forms of resource extraction. (Senado de la República)

According to data from CEMDA, murders of environmental activists reached a high of 29 in 2017, followed by 2021 with 25.

However, 2021’s total was much higher — 54 — according to another NGO watchdog group, Global Witness. Their worldwide analysis of 2021 data found that more land and environmental activists were killed that year in Mexico than in any other country in the world.

CEMDA’s new report also highlighted the human cost of the violence. It mentioned the case of Alcalá Díaz, as well as Ricardo Lagunes, a human rights lawyer who also was openly critical of mining projects in Michoacán.

Alfredo Cisneros
Alfredo Cisneros, another environmental activist killed in 2023, was president of the Communal Assets Commission in the Indigenous community of Sicuicho, Michoacán. (Consejo Suprema Indigena Michoacán)

Another case mentioned was that of 27-year-old student, journalist and activist Abisaí Pérez Romero, who was conducting research for the Environmental Justice Atlas on environmental degradation along the Tula River when he went missing. Two days later, he turned up dead on a local road in Hidalgo.

It also mentioned the homicide of Alfredo Cisneros Madrigal, 60, an anti-logging and anti-mining activist and a member of the community land council in the municipality of Los Reyes, Michoacán.

“It seems the Mexican state does not care about life or death,” said Raquel Camacho Lagunes, Ricardo’s cousin, at the presentation of the report on Tuesday. “The state has failed, and only we are left.”

The report calls for urgent action from the Mexican government to address violence against defenders of the environment and ensure their safety.

With reports from El Financiero, Sin Embargo and Animal Político

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