Environmental Defender Missing in Mexico


Irma Galindo Barrios was last seen on October 27. Indigenous communities in Mexico are demanding her safe return. Courtesy of family lawyer

An Indigenous environmental defender is missing in Mexico.

Irma Galindo Barrios has been working to protect forests in the Mexican state of Oaxaca from illegal logging. She was last seen on October 27, and Indigenous communities in Mexico are demanding her safe return.

“Please sign the petition to pressure Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Presidente De Mexico and Alejandro Murat Hinojosa Governor of Oaxaca, as well as appointed officials of influential departments to help find Irma Galindo Barrios and return her to her family,” her supporters wrote on Change.org.

Illegal logging is an ongoing problem in Oaxaca, The Guardian explained. The deforestation threatens the income and food sources of local communities, who rely on pine forests for sustainable woodcutting and mushroom foraging. Galindo, who is a member of the Indigenous Mixtec people, has fought the logging since at least 2018, when loggers moved into three communities in her municipality of San Sebastián Atatlahuca with the alleged support of the local government

Her activism won her enemies, and neighbors burned down her home, forcing her to flee briefly into the forest. In 2019, she filed a complaint against the illegal logging with local authorities, but the police did nothing in response, according to the petition.

“The issue in Oaxaca is there is enormous complicity between groups with political power, who sometimes control an area, and people are supposed to benefit from these natural resources,” Oaxaca human rights lawyer Maurilio Santiago Reyes told The Guardian. “Nobody ever responded to the complaints that were made.”

Galindo’s disappearance follows another wave of violence from October 21 to 23, directed against the same three communities facing deforestation. In the attacks, two people were killed, four disappeared and 90 homes were burned.

The day Galindo disappeared, she attempted to deliver a petition to President Obrador in Mexico City, but was refused. She was then supposed to attend a virtual meeting to join a state program for protecting journalists and defenders, but never showed up.

The violence faced by Galindo and her community is not an isolated incident in Mexico. The country was the second deadliest for environmental defenders in 2020, according to the annual report from Global Witness. The country lost 30 defenders to violence in 2020, and nine of them over conflicts related to illegal logging, a “large rise” from the year before.

Galindo described the situation in a Facebook post shortly before her disappearance, as The Guardian reported.

“There aren’t any government officials who will go and see how we live … They only send in money that is used to buy weapons that are used to kill us. If there are organizations or groups that want to help us, they end up being criminalized, threatened and harassed,” Galindo wrote. “Where does this end? What follows?”

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