May 14, 2004

The Baldenegro and Rivas Case:  Incarceration of Indigenous Tarahumara Forest Activists Continues in Chihuahua

Greenpeace has joined with other international and Mexican organizations that are demanding the release of indigenous environmental and community activists Isidro Baldenegro and Hermenegildo Rivas. Baldenegro and Rivas, Rarámuri men from the embattled Sierra Tarahumara community of Coloradas de la Virgen, were arrested in their home town on March 29, 2003.

The Sierra Tarahumara, better known in the US as the Copper Canyon, is a 10,000 square mile mountainous area that begins 250 miles south of the US-Mexico border and extends to the Chihuahua-Durango border. It is home to nearly 100,000 indigenous people and the region contains old-growth forest, deep canyons, water falls, and endangered thick-bill parrots.

Baldenegro and Rivas say that Chihuahua state police broke into the men’s homes without search warrants and planted guns and marijuana so that they could arrest the pair. Eye witnesses from Coloradas de la Virgen confirm the raid on the men’s homes.

The police version of what happened is that agents saw Baldenegro and Rivas walking around with AK-47s and detained them for this. Upon searching Baldenegro they claim that they found him to be carrying marijuana. In Mexico, having weapons of a type only allowed for military use is a serious federal crime. If convicted the men would receive more than ten years in jail. 

Environmental and human rights groups like Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Fuerza Ambiental, and Chihuahua’s own State Commission for Human Rights say that Baldenegro and Rivas were targeted because of their success as community leaders and environmental activists. It has been noted that the two were arrested just days after Coloradas de la Virgen community members stopped logging trucks that were working in their community. Previously, in 2002, a Mexican court had ordered an end to all cutting in the area. 

As reported by Frontera NorteSure (FNS) in April 2004, Baldenegro’s father was also a community and forest activist when he died in 1984 after being shot by a high-power rifle—one allegedly fired by a contract killer working for a local, well-known narco-logging family. Other Tarahumara in the area were killed for organizing against illegal forest cutting. Baldenegro’s brother, Trinidad Baldenegro, and another men were arrested prior to Isidro Baldenegro and Rivas but have since been freed.

According to environmentalists in the Sierra, the narco-logging dynamic is one in which drug traffickers buy up or use logging companies to launder drug money. In this fashion drug money is run through companies and is made to look like profits from logging. Unfortunate for the Sierra’s fauna and flora is the fact that such mechanisms allow otherwise unprofitable logging to continue.

Marijuana and opium cultivation is also threatening peace in the region. Although drug traffickers used to pay a bit of cash to men to tend  the growing fields, they now often pay in cocaine which leads to addiction or to the arrest of men that are trying to sell cocaine for cash. Cocaine is brought into the region by low-flying aircraft that use rough landing strips in the Sierra. 

To see two April 2003 FNS articles about the Sierra and the Baldenegro-Rivas case go to:

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