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ENVIRONMENT AMERICAS

Missing Mexican Butterfly Activist Found Dead

Monarch butterfly at Angangeo, Michoacan, Mexico. Date: 13 April 2012 Source: Own work Author: Tomascastelazo

“Something strange is happening, because they’re finishing off all the activists, the people who are doing something for society… With his death, not only my family lost a loved one; but the whole world, and the monarch butterfly and the forests lost, too.”

Homero Gómez González, a prominent conservationist and one of central Mexico’s most well-known defenders of the region’s monarch butterfly population, was found dead in a well near the sanctuary he spent decades protecting on Wednesday, two weeks after going missing in what activists fear was a murder related to his work standing up to the illegal logging industry.

“For as long as anyone can remember, millions of monarch butterflies have spent their winters on a few remote hilltops in the Mexican state of Michoacán,” explained the Washington Post. “But logging in the region nearly destroyed their habitat, a convergence of geography and landscape that might have been impossible to replicate.”

In a profile with the Washington Post, Gómez González explained that he grew up in a family of loggers but later convinced others to give up the trade to protect the butterflies, arguing that they could make a living from tourism instead. The sanctuary is now a Unesco World Heritage Site and logging is forbidden in the area by federal law.

“We were afraid that if we had to stop logging, it would send us all into poverty,” he told the Post.

Gonzalez’ family said that he had received death threats for his work, according to Common Dreams. “It’s been a fight to maintain it,” the conservationist told the Post. “And it hasn’t been easy.”

Preliminary autopsy reports prove that the butterfly protector died of “asphyxiation by immersion” in a pot of agricultural water, according to Telesur, contradicting initial reports that claimed he did not have marks of violence on his body.

Latin America is the world’s deadliest region and Mexico is the sixth most dangerous country for conservationists, according to Global Witness. Time explains that the region’s “grinding poverty and gang violence fuel twin threats to the butterfly reserve — illegal logging and encroaching plantations of avocados.”

“Something strange is happening, because they’re finishing off all the activists, the people who are doing something for society,” Amado Gomez, the conservationist’s brother, told Time. “A lot of the communal land owners fear that with his death, the forests are finished.”

“I would like to ask the authorities to do their job and do more to protect activists like my brother, because lately in Mexico a lot of activists have died,” he continued. “With his death, not only my family lost a loved one; but the whole world, and the monarch butterfly and the forests lost, too.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to end violence against environmental defenders, but the killings have continued. According to Global Witness, there were 15 killings of environmental activists and rural leaders in Mexico in 2017 and 14 in 2018.

“This is a very regrettable act, very painful,” López Obrador said about González’ death at his morning press conference on Thursday. “It’s part of what makes us apply ourselves more to guarantee peace and tranquility in the country.”

Michoacan Governor Silvano Aureoles praised Homero Gomez as “a tireless activist and defender of the forests,” who “distinguished himself for his permanent work and coordination with the institutions.”

González regularly shared videos of the butterfly sanctuary on Twitter. “Come and and see this marvel of nature! [The butterflies] are lovers of the sun, the souls of the dead,” González said in one of his last videos, referring to indigenous legends about the monarch butterflies.

En el Santuario El Rosario Ocampo Michoacan “ El más grande del mundo “ pic.twitter.com/WlCJuOcG4Q

— Homero gomez g. (@Homerogomez_g) January 12, 2020

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Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a staff writer and assistant editor at Citizen Truth.

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