Missing Mexican activist highlights deadly threat to environmentalists – Advice Eating

MEXICO CITY, May 11 (Reuters) – Last October, environmentalist Irma Galindo left her home in a remote indigenous community in southern Mexico to discuss threats she received from officials who run a program specifically designed to Protection of activists from violence was developed.

Galindo never made it to the meeting that was scheduled to take place in Mexico City.

The then 41-year-old activist has not been seen since, and her colleagues believe her disappearance is linked to her long fight against illegal logging in her home state of Oaxaca, a lucrative business in Mexico dominated by organized crime. The authorities have made little progress in their case.

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Galindo’s story is not uncommon in Mexico.

At least 45 environmental activists have been killed since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in 2018, according to government figures, making Mexico the second most dangerous country in the world for protecting the environment after Colombia.

Her disappearance underscores how environmental activism has become increasingly dangerous in Mexico under the administration of Lopez Obrador, a left-wing president who campaigned on promises to end violence but whose mandate has instead seen a surge in violent crime.

The actual number of environmentalists killed as a result of their work is likely even higher, as the official figure includes only those who were part of the government’s protection program for activists and journalists, known locally as “the Mechanism”.

The program offers varying degrees of protection, from little more than threat registration to geolocated pagers for activists or even bodyguards and help fleeing the country.

Those familiar with Galindo’s case say it was considered “normal,” meaning she received no practical protection from the program other than knowing that federal authorities knew about her case. Their meeting in Mexico City was to review the classification of their case and whether some protection could be afforded.

The Home Office, which runs the protection program, declined to comment on Galindo’s disappearance or why she was not offered further assistance. The Oaxaca state government declined to comment. Prosecutors said they would not comment on the ongoing investigation.

Amid mounting pressure and media attention surrounding the killings, the federal government has pledged to crack down and start talks with authorities and victims to propose a new law to protect activists and journalists.

“By the time the mechanism acts, it’s often too late,” said Sara Mendez, a human rights defender who advises the Oaxaca Ombudsman’s office, which investigates human rights abuses.

Preliminary investigations have led federal government officials to believe local authorities are implicated in about 40% of the killings of environmental activists, although only two out of 45 cases have resulted in a suspect being charged.

“We have a serious problem because ultimately the local authorities not only do not contribute to the solution, but are part of the problem,” said Enrique Irazoque, head of the human rights defense department at the Interior Ministry.

BURNED DOWN

Galindo first reported receiving threats from local officials four years ago while she was fighting illegal logging in the forested Mixtec region, an area stretching 35,000 square kilometers (13,500 square miles) — about the size of Taiwan — through the southern states of Guerrero , Oaxaca, includes and Publa.

Local government officials in the area did not respond to calls from Reuters seeking comment.

Over a four-year period, she rallied various other activists against a sawmill she claimed was destroying the forest without proper permits.

Galindo received death threats, which she and the National Network of Human Rights Defenders in Mexico denounced at the time. In 2019, she said she was harassed by two local government officials.

A month later, her home and the homes of other activists burned down in what Galindo said was staged as arson by local community officials. She briefly fled Mexico but returned and continued her forest defense activism.

“I came back because I have no reason to hide … I am defending a forest that benefits our communities,” Galindo said on a community radio show in December 2020.

But by October the threats had gotten so bad that she wrote a frantic letter to the officers running the protection program.

The Oct. 22 letter, seen by Reuters, pleaded for more security. She wrote that she was “afraid of dying” threatened by a “mafia of power”.

The next day, while she was in Mexico City ahead of her meeting with the protection program, gunmen stormed her San Esteban Atatlahuca community, killing seven people and setting fire to dozens of homes, according to neighbors who spoke to Reuters. The incident was in retaliation for Galindo’s activism, her neighbors said.

Four days later, on October 27, Galindo disappeared.

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Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; writing by Cassandra Garrison; Edited by Stephen Eisenhammer and Alistair Bell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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