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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Mexican Logging

Air Date: Week of

Battles over logging in the forests of Guerrero (Yeh-RAY-ro), Mexico are drawing in the Mexican army, foreign companies and even international human rights and environmental groups. Rodolfo Montiel (Mahn-TEE-yo), an anti-logging leader recently awarded the Goldman Environmental Award, is in prison for his activism. Kent Patterson files reports.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. A campaign against logging operations in southern Mexico is gaining more and more international attention. Rodolfo Montiel is a key leader in this anti-logging crusade, and he's just won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. But Senor Montiel won't be picking up his prize in person. That's because he's locked up in a Mexican prison on drug and weapons charges. Kent Patterson has the story behind Rodolfo Montiel's arrest and the reason for the logging dispute in the forests of Guerrero.

(Motors and fans)

PATTERSON: In a large factory, hundreds of Mexican workers turn logs into sheets of plywood. Located in the Costa Grande region of Guerrero state, this plant, owned by Spanish investors, provides jobs and income for one of the poorest regions of Mexico. But not everybody is happy about the logging in the nearby mountains.

(Maximino Pineda speaks in Spanish)

PATTERSON: Farmer Maximino Pineda represents the campesino ecologist organization Apetatlan and Coyuca de Catatlan. He contends that Mexican authorities are not enforcing laws against illegal logging. He says the environment is in jeopardy.

PINEDA: [speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: The timber is ending up in the hands of a few people who are the officials of the forest-owning communities. The mountains are practically being stripped bare, and water resources are getting scarce.

PATTERSON: Three years ago the campesino ecologist organization began putting up roadblocks that stopped trucks carrying lumber. At that time, the wood was being shipped to a mill owned by the U.S.-based company Boise Cascade. The timber industry giant has since closed down its Guerrero operation, but others like the Spanish investors have taken their place.

(Noel Cruz speaks in Spanish)

PATTERSON: Noel Cruz works for Mexico's environmental enforcement agency. He says the government will investigate complains of illegal logging and carry out audits of timber harvest plots. He criticizes the tactics of anti-logging protesters.

CRUZ: [speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: The truth of the matter is that people are unhappy with the timber stoppages, because it has stopped our money flow. Everyone was living off, off this business. There were repair shops for vehicles, freight haulers, heavy equipment operators, and chainsaw operators.
PINEDA: [speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: The timber is ending up in the hands of a few people who are the officials of the forest-owning communities. The mountains are practically being stripped bare, and water resources are getting scarce.

PATTERSON: In recent months, logging disputes have heated up in Guerrero and other parts of Mexico. At this meeting in Guerrero, pro- and anti-logging factions debate a proposal to ban logging in one area of the southern Sierra Madre mountains.

(A man argues in Spanish)

PATTERSON: Although local environmental and economic issues are at stake, the battle over Guerrero's forests is turning into an international controversy. It's becoming known through the story of one man, Rodolfo Montiel, one of the leaders of the campesino ecologist organization.

(Ubalda Cortez speaks in Spanish)

PATTERSON: Ubalda Cortez is the wife of Rodolfo Montiel. She says that on May second, 1999, she and her husband were in the mountain village of Pizolta when Mexican soldiers arrived, firing their weapons.

CORTEZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: I asked them whether they were government soldiers and bandits, because a military government has no right to come in the way they did. They asked me to go with them and help secure the surrender of my husband and his friends, or they would kill me. And in any case they would kill my husband. They pointed their guns at me and threatened to kill me.

PATTERSON: When the shooting was over, Montiel and his friend Teodora Cabrera were in custody, and a third man, Salome Ortiz, was dead. Mexican authorities charged the men with possessing weapons and drugs, but Ubalda Cortez says her husband and friend are being framed for opposing the logging. A number of international environmental groups agree. Rodolfo Montiel this month was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Award by the San Francisco-based foundation. And he's currently a nominee for the Sierra Club's Chico Mendes Award.

QUERAL: The case of Rodolfo Montiel and Teodora Cabrera is one of many, unfortunately, in the world, where environmental activists are being harassed. They're being beaten or tortured, even killed at times, for their environmental activism.

PATTERSON: Alejandro Queral, the director of the Sierra Club's Human Rights and Environment Campaign, together with Amnesty International and a network of international groups. The Sierra Club is campaigning for the freedom of Montiel and Cabrera. Queral says their case is one key example of a growing trend in international environmental movement.

QUERAL: Environmental activism, we are realizing, is closely tied to issues of human rights. Both go hand in hand. One cannot be an environmentalist if one's rights to speak, to get organized, are not respected. These are basic civil rights that allow people to make a change. In many of the countries, particularly poor countries, many of these people's rights are being violated, and in doing so they are not being allowed to protect their own environment. If they can't do it, no one else will.

PATTERSON: Even as logs continue to be cut and processed in Guerrero, Alejandro Queral and other supporters of Rodolfo Montiel vow they will step up their campaign. He adds that Mexico's attorney general, Jorge Madrazo, pledged in a recent meeting with the Sierra Club and others that he will personally review the case. Nevertheless, members of Rodolfo Montiel's organization say they are intimidated by an ongoing military presence in their communities. The Mexican government did not return a phone call seeking comment. For Living on Earth, I'm Kent Patterson reporting.



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