Indigenous environmental rights defender Manuel Gaspar Rodríguez was a member of the Antonio Esteban Human Rights Centre and part of a coalition of social movements who have been opposing energy projects, mining concessions, and the construction of a high-voltage power line in the northern mountain region of Puebla state. Colleagues from another coalition that Manuel Rodríguez was part of, the Independent Popular Rural and Urban movement of farmers and workers (MIOCUP), last reported seeing him on 13 May. Manuel was found dead on 14 May in Cuetzalan, Puebla state. He was one of a number of defenders facing criminal investigation for their opposition to the construction of a high-voltage power line. These defenders are at grave risk and have recently been subject to attacks and intimidation.
Manuel died in the early hours of 14 May of massive blood loss from three deep stab wounds, according to the autopsy. On his left shoulder there were also wounds provoked by a sharp and hot object, as well as marks on his face, suggesting other possible forms of violence. The perpetrators remain unknown. The State Attorney General’s Office of Puebla has opened an investigation into his death, yet they have been irregularly withholding his lawyers’ access to the case file, and it is not yet clear whether lines of inquiry include his work as a human rights defender.
The Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) had recently opened a criminal investigation against Manuel Gaspar Rodríguez and seven other defenders and activists from MIOCUP and the Tosepan Union of Cooperatives for their participation in a peaceful sit-in near the proposed power line outside of Cuetzalan in late 2016 and 2017. The State Electricity Commission responsible for the power line presented a criminal complaint against the defenders in January 2017. They are accused of “obstructing a public work”, punishable by up to one year in prison.
Written by Amnesty International