Joined: Mon Jan 24, 2005 9:11 am
Location: western New York
This proves there are still people in the world who are willing to literally FIGHT for what they believe in. I wish I had their passion and determination. If, and I hope it comes true, they manage to actually win their battle, they are my heros.
Peasants Pay with Blood to Save Mexico Forest
By Lorraine Orlandi
Friday 22 July 2005
Petatlan, Mexico - Reyna Mojica saw her two boys shot to death just weeks ago, an attack she traces to a vendetta she says began in 1998 when her family helped block hundreds of logging trucks in Mexico's Sierra Madre.
They call themselves the Peasant Ecologists of the Petatlan Sierra and their fight to save a swath of forest near the Pacific coast is among the world's most important struggles against deforestation, Greenpeace says.
The peasants have largely won. But they have paid dearly.
After the month-long blockade, international lumber firm Boise Cascade canceled contracts for massive cutting operations in the Petatlan mountains, citing supply problems, and 15 logging permits were revoked.
Since then at least a dozen peasant leaders have been targeted. Some have been arrested and jailed on what are widely seen as bogus charges engineered by political and economic interests profiting from logging. Others have gone into hiding and some have been killed.
"This has cost so much; it has cost lives," said ecologist Eva Alarcon in the mountaintop hamlet Banco Nuevo. "People are on the lookout day and night. These men don't sleep at home."
While much of the logging has stopped, violence and acrimony still flare largely, locals say, because the activists represent a continuing challenge to the local power structure of landowners and the court, military and police officials allied to them. The results of that power clash are chilling.
One night in May, Mojica watched from her dirt-floor kitchen as her husband and four children arrived in their truck. Suddenly, gunshots exploded and she ran outside.
"I was yelling, 'Don't shoot, my children are out there, my children are out there,"' she said later.
Two sons died, aged 9 and 20, the elder leaving a pregnant widow. Mojica's younger boy died in her arms. Rights groups say her husband, ecologist Albertano Penaloza, who was injured, was targeted for his activism. No one has been arrested.
Nonetheless, Mojica and her neighbors keep defending the forest. Their fight is a textbook study of how grass-roots activism meets stone-hard repression in Mexico's countryside.
"The struggle is not just for us and our family, it is for everyone," Mojica said quietly. "I think it is worthwhile."
Favors, Blood Ties
In the Petatlan Sierra, a rugged range rising from the steamy Pacific coast into fresh pine forest, questions of justice and power can turn on personal favors and blood ties.
Environmental groups say wealthy landowners and power brokers profited from logging that between 1992 and 2000 destroyed 40 percent of 558,000 acres of woodland here, some of the worst deforestation on the planet.
As old-growth forest was clear-cut, peasants saw streams and rivers drying up and knew something was wrong. Stripping the land of trees depleted the watershed.
They set out to educate neighbors, armed with Catholic teachings about preserving nature, and came up against powerful interests including a party boss with family ties to the army.
"Unfortunately, this group from Petatlan ran into very powerful people who still have a lot to exploit," said Amador Campos, the leftist mayor of the nearby coastal resort Zihuatanejo. "This is a war over money."
For subsistence farmers the stakes were vital.
"Their struggle has been for survival, so as not to be left with denuded soil, no water, barren earth," said Alejandro Calvillo of Greenpeace in Mexico.
By 1998 as many as 800 logging trucks roared down the mountains daily. Hilltops were shaved to stubble. Community pleas to state and federal officials brought no response.
So the ecologists took drastic action.
"They went down and stopped the trucks in the middle of the road," Alarcon recalled. "They threw out some logs and burned them. That's when the persecution started hard, really hard."
Labeled "eco-guerrillas" by prosecutors, two ecologists were arrested and tortured into confessing to gun and drug crimes and another was killed in that raid, rights groups say.
The jailing of Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera became an international rights cause until President Vicente Fox pardoned them in 2001 under mounting pressure.
The ecologists had hoped such persecution would stop with Fox's 2000 election, which ended 71 years of one-party rule.
Instead, leader Felipe Arreaga has been jailed since November on what rights groups say are false murder charges, and in May three more ecologists were arrested on gun charges.
And Mojica's family was ambushed, prompting state lawmakers to form a special commission to investigate.
"For protecting the environment, they kill people, jail them," said Arreaga's wife, Celsa Valdovinos, herself a leading activist. "I'm scared. It looks like this won't stop."
Still, like Mojica she is wedded to the group's mission, which has turned largely from protest to reforestation. They have planted 177,000 trees and formed firefighting brigades.
Shiny green baby firs now huddle on once bare mountainsides. Spindly young cedars crowd the lower altitudes. Some farmers harvest the trees' seeds for sale, and as the watershed rises they dream of marketing river shrimp.