Goldman prize winner Isidro Baldenegro López, who was known for his activism against illegal logging, was shot dead months after Berta Cáceres was murdered
Originally published by The Guardian’s Nina Lakhani in Mexico City
“An indigenous Mexican activist who received the prestigious Goldman environmental prize for his crusade against illegal logging has been shot dead, the second award-winner to have been murdered in less than 12 months.
Isidro Baldenegro López, a subsistence farmer and leader of the Tarahumara community in the country’s northern Sierra Madre mountain region, was shot at a relative’s home on Sunday.
Baldenegro received the Goldman prize in 2005 for his non-violent campaign to protect ancient forests from deforestation in a region plagued by violence, drug trafficking and corruption.
According to local reports the indigenous leader, who was in his 50s, had only recently returned to his community Coloradas de la Virgen in Chihuahua after a long period in exile due to threats against him and his family.
Baldenegro’s murder is yet another grave reminder of the dangers faced by environmental and land activists in the region.
The Honduran indigenous leader, Berta Cáceres who received the Goldman prize in 2015, was murdered in March 2016 after years of death threats and intimidation linked to her campaign against an internationally financed hydroelectric dam.
Her death came after at least 122 activists were murdered in Latin America in 2015 while trying to protect natural resources from environmentally destructive mega-projects such as dams, mines, tourist resorts and logging, according to research by the NGO Global Witness. In all, 2015 was the deadliest year on record for environmental activists globally with at least 185 killed.
“The threats Isidro Baldenegro López faced for his resistance are emblematic of those suffered by countless others who take a stand against the theft of their land and destruction of the environment. Nowhere is it deadlier to do so than in Latin America,” said Global Witness campaigner Ben Leather.
“The Mexican authorities must act with conviction, prosecuting those responsible for Isidro’s murder and protecting his family and colleagues. Failing to do so will only encourage future violence,” Leather added.
‘Time was running out’: Honduran activist’s last days marked by threats
The western Sierra Madre mountain range in northern Mexico hosts one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems, which includes four colossal canyons each bigger than the Grand Canyon, and is the ancestral land of the Tarahumara people.
The forests have long been targeted by illegal loggers abetted by corrupt officials and landowners, forcing the Tarahumara into progressively smaller and more isolated areas.
As a young boy, Baldenegro witnessed the assassination of his father after he took a stand against logging. But despite the serious risks, Baldenegro dedicated his life to defending the forest and the lands inhabited by his community for hundreds of years.
In 1993 he founded a grassroots NGO to fight deforestation which attracted national attention. In 2002, he organised a series of blockades and marches which forced the government to temporarily suspend logging. The following year a protest headed by the wives of murdered community leaders led to a court ruling banning logging.
But his efforts angered the powerful network of state officials, landowners and criminal bosses involved in logging, and in 2003 he was imprisoned for 15 months on false charges of arms and drugs possession. His illegal detention triggered widespread international condemnation from groups like Amnesty International, which eventually helped secure his release in 2004.
His death was reported by relatives to local media, who said the killers were responsible for a spate of murders and attacks against local indigenous people opposing logging.
A spokesman from the state prosecutor’s office told the Guardian that one perpetrator had been identified but not yet detained.
Susan R Gelman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said: “Isidro Baldenegro’se relentless work organizing peaceful protests against illegal logging in the Sierra Madre mountains helped protect the forests, lands and rights of his people. He was a fearless leader and a source of inspiration to so many people fighting to protect our environment and indigenous peoples … Unfortunately, too many governments are failing to create safe spaces where people can voice their dissent and organize movements free of persecution and violent attacks.
“We call on the authorities to bring the perpetrators of this senseless violence to justice, and ask the international community, which rallied to Isidro’s defense during his imprisonment in 2003, to come together once again to honor and protect his legacy.”
Baldenegro is one of only four Mexican activists to have received the Goldman award”.