The navy’s aggression towards fishermen in San Felipe, Baja California, this week represents a continuation of the “policy of repression and persecution” initiated by the former federal government against the fishing sector, according to a fishermen’s leader.
Sunshine Rodríguez made the accusation following a clash Thursday in which a suspected illegal totoaba fisherman was shot by marines – accidentally, according to a statement from the navy.
Local media reported that two other people were wounded in the confrontation.
“It was a confrontation between fishermen and the navy derived from four years of harassment by the government of [Enrique] Peña Nieto, which planted a bomb that has detonated in the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador,” Rodríguez said.
Fishermen in San Felipe, a town on the upper Gulf of California around 200 kilometers south of Mexicali, are accused of contributing to the near extinction of the vaquita marina porpoise by continuing to use gillnets to catch totoaba, whose swim bladder is a delicacy in China.
The vaquita population has plummeted to just 10, scientists estimate, largely due to deaths caused by entanglement in the nets.
In recent years, the navy and Federal Police have carried out operations aimed at stamping out the illegal use of gillnets, while environmental organizations such as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society carry out patrols to detect and remove the nets from the upper Gulf of California, the only place in the world vaquitas live.
Fishermen argue that the total ban on gillnets implemented by the Peña Nieto government has denied them the opportunity to make an honest living, and on-the-water clashes with authorities have recently increased.
Since it took office in December, the López Obrador administration hasn’t paid compensation to fishermen in the area as part of a scheme introduced after the gillnet ban was introduced in 2015. Environment Secretary Josefa González Blanco said last week that no further payments will be made.
Rodríguez said the current government pledged to treat fishermen more fairly but contended that nothing has changed.
Rodríguez also denies that he and other San Felipe fishermen are involved in an illegal totoaba trafficking racket.
Among those who have leveled that accusation at the fishermen’s leader is journalist Carlos Loret de Mola, who has reported on illegal totoaba fishing in the upper Gulf of California.
Loret de Mola reiterated the claim on his radio program this week and revealed that he has received death threats in response to his reporting about the so-called totoaba cartel.
“According to intelligence gathered by authorities, social organizations and media, Sunshine Rodríguez heads an organization that is dedicated to supplying totoaba swim bladders to the cartel. In other words, his smokescreen is that he is a fishermen’s leader but . . . it’s like narcos saying ‘I’m a farmer.’ Threats have been reaching me systematically every time I do a report about this issue and lately even without reporting on it. They’re direct threats, using their name and surname – they don’t hide,” he said.
Hours later, Rodríguez published a video on his Facebook account in which he challenged Loret de Mola to provide evidence to back up his claims and rejected that he was behind the death threats.
However, he threatened to physically attack the journalist should he ever see him.
“. . . I’m not going to look for you, I don’t have the time or the need [but] karma will put you in front of me one day and believe me, I’m going to knock your teeth out,” Rodríguez said.
“I’m going to knock them out, Carlos, for being a loud-mouth and an asshole. It’s one thing for the authorities to accuse me and another for you to criminalize me . . .”