The indigenous Rarámuri community of Bosques de San Elías Repechique, Chihuahua, is demanding justice after the murder of leader and activist Antonio Montes Enríquez, whose death has been called a “crime of the state.”
Montes, 43, who was killed on June 6 due to blunt force trauma to the head, had previously been the target of an armed attack and his family home was burned to the ground earlier this year.
The activist had been planning a protest at the site of the Barrancas del Cobre airport in the town of Creel to denounce the misuse of a trust created in 2016 to compensate residents for the airport’s construction on land belonging to the Rarámuri.
The state Attorney General’s Office reported that Montes died during a fight in which his attacker hit him in the head with a large rock. Witnesses have identified the suspect and an arrest warrant has been issued.
Bosques de San Elías Repechique, located in the Tarahumara mountains, is a small community of 403 people belonging to 132 indigenous families who live in 33 ranches spread out over 11,300 hectares.
The airport trust, founded in 2016 after an agreement was reached in court, offered the Rarámuri 65 million pesos (around US $2.9 million) to be used for the benefit of the community and for cultural and environmental preservation projects.
Montes, who had also spoken out about illegal logging in the region, had been a vocal opponent of the airport project for years as courts sorted out the land issues with the Rarámuri.
The new international airport is scheduled to open for private aviation later this year, with commercial flights arriving in 2021 from several cities within Mexico, as well as proposed direct flights from U.S. cities such as Las Vegas, Dallas, Denver, San Francisco and Houston.
Its opening is expected to be a major boon to the region’s tourism sector, drawing new visitors eager to explore the mountains and Chihuahua’s breathtaking Copper Canyon.