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Rodolfo Montiel Flores
 

“I invite everybody to share the water we have to drink and the food produced by the earth. Let us look at it as if it were ours, not to destroy, but to build. Let us become aware, because it is 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.”

Mexico
Forests

In 1995 Boise Cascade — one of the largest U.S. forest products companies — began purchasing logs from 24 local ejidos (villages whose residents have the right to work communal lands) in the Sierra de Petatlán and other regions. Their goal was to extract 20 million board feet of softwood timber from this forest, located in the southwestern region of the country, over five years. The legal transformations resulting from the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Mexican Forest Reform law of 1997 allows extra comfort for foreign investors by waiving protections for biodiversity and water quality. In addition to such exemptions, the political climate of Guerrero is such that Mexico's Environment Minister Julia Carabias has been unable to conduct an audit of logging permits because her inspectors frequently receive death threats upon arrival to the area. From the start, logging in the Sierra de Petatlán was fraught with corruption, resulting in grave human rights and environmental abuses. The disturbance to the forest watershed drastically decreased the region’s water supply and quality. Poor, agricultural villages suffered most.

Alarmed by the devastating effects of rampant logging in the Petatlán area, Rodolfo Montiel Flores, a campesino (a poor, rural dweller engaged primarily in agriculture) from the Guerrero village of El Mameyal became an environmental activist, organizing other campesinos in the surrounding communities to protest the commercial logging project.

Montiel and his colleagues formed Campesinos Ecologistas de la Sierra de Petatlán y Coyuca de Catalán (Farmer Ecologists from the Mountains of Petatlán and Coyuca de Catalán) and began registering complaints, making long journeys down from the mountains in hopes of meeting with authorities, only to be ignored. In early 1998 Boise Cascade suspended its operations, declaring that it could no longer depend on a steady supply of logs from the region, but logging by the caciques (political bosses) continues.

Some communities that had endured endless convoys of logging trucks rumbling through their tiny village roads eventually erected a tollbooth to collect money from the passing truck drivers, a symbolic protest invoking toll booths previously set up by logging companies to collect fees from travelers for crossing through the forest. Because their communities received no benefits from the logging, they demanded some compensation. Local caciques responded by destroying the booth. The government sent troops to the most resistant villages. Many protestors were dragged from their homes. Prior to his arrest, Montiel’s life and that other members of the ecological organization were also threatened.

The attorney general of Guerrero called for Montiel’s arrest, accusing him of trafficking in weapons and narcotics, and of being a member of an “eco-guerilla organization.” On May 2, 1999 he and a fellow campesino, Teodoro Cabrera García, were arrested by the army, bound, beaten and imprisoned on false charges of illegal possession of military weapons and uniforms. An innocent bystander was shot and killed at the time of Montiel’s arrest. Since then, the National Human Rights Commission, a government agency, has taken no steps to investigate the case. Montiel, in prison in Igualá, has also has been denied adequate medical treatment.

Rodolfo Montiel Flores was born in Guerrero and has lived there his entire life. He grew up in the Sierra, but was forced by economic conditions to leave the land and became a clothing peddler.






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