April 2000

Rudolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera García

The cases of Mexican environmental activists Rudolfo Montiel -- this year's winner of the Goldman Foundation environmental prize -- and Teodoro Cabrera García reveal how US-imposed drug prohibition has nothing to do with combatting drugs and instead is used as a pretext to persecute free speech and political dissent.

Montiel and Cabrera were detained by Mexican military troops on May 2, 1999, severely tortured and forced to pose with marijuana plants and weapons which they were then charged with possessing. But they are not narco-traffickers, as the Goldman Foundation and Amnesty International recently confirmed, declaring them prisoners of conscience. They are ecological activists. The Narco News Bulletin is proud to give them our first drug-war Hero-of-the-Month award because -- despite the brutal tortures and injuries they have already endured -- they have not backed down and continue fighting to expose the truth.

Montiel, who donated the $125,000 Goldman Foundation prize to the farming peasants of his community, writes about the environmental destruction by large landowners and loggers in his mountain region of Guerrero. This, he writes, from his Iguala, Guerrero prison cell:

"When there are trees on one ridge, and also on a neighboring ridge, the clouds knock together and there is rainfall, but when one ridge has no trees, the clouds just pass by and only one or two drops fall, and as a result crops are lost, hurting the campesinos and the professional people who eat the crops the campesinos produce....

It is precisely the destroyers of the forest, and not Montiel or Cabrera, who are the region's drug traffickers. With the support of Mexican armed forces and state police agencies, the large landowners have formed armed paramilitary organizations to persecute peasants and workers and to ensure the free flow not only of lumber and other legal products, but also of poppy and marijuana for the black market. This system of narco-caciques, or narco-bosses, operates with impunity: the military, police and politicians get their percentage of the illicit proceeds in exchange for protection.

The official protection of drug traffickers and repression against peaceful and democratic citizen movements is carried out with the support of the US government. It was US Ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow, after all, who came to the aid of electoral fraud in the state of Guerrero in 1999 in order to ensure that the regime that supports the regional narco-bosses remains in power. And it was a Canadian company -- Boise Cascade -- behind the deforesting project that Montiel and Cabrera were persecuted for opposing.

Montiel calls for government action to "require those responsible for the destruction" to rebuild the forests and provide basic equipment to poor farmers so they can dedicate themselves to raising cattle instead of pillaging trees for lumber.

"Instead of supporting them with weapons and permits to carry them, or permits for organizing armed units...they should show their good faith and try to improve our lives, because remember: whoever kills a lot of people is committing genocide, and whoever kills a lot of trees commits ecocide. The two crimes are very similar and they are being committed at the same time, because each tree they cut down is like an exploding bomb and the springs disappear, the sea rises, and along with deforestation and burning, the flora dies, that is, they kill the ecosystem and our soils erode and each day they become less fertile and the campesino loses; the rays of the son become hotter, as if they were lower down, as if they had new batteries.

"That is why I invite everybody to share the water we have to drink and the food produced by the earth, let us look at it is if it were yours, not to destroy, but to build and to demand respect for our heritage. Let us become aware, because it's for the good of your children, your grandchildren, and all the generations; since we are only passing through, at least we can leave them some pure air to breathe."


"This is the respectful wish of your friend,

--Rodolfo Montiel Flores


The full text of Montiel's letter can be found, with more information about his case, on the Goldman Foundation's web site (click here)


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