Federal Court Releases Anti-Logging Advocate in Guerrero State

Article excerpt

In mid-September, a federal court released Felipe Arreaga, an environmental advocate who gained notoriety for his opposition to logging in the Coyuquilla Valley in Guerrero state.

Arreaga, who had spent nearly a year in jail, had been accused of killing Abel Bautista, son of powerful landowner Bernardo Bautista Valle, even though eyewitnesses said the victim was murdered by unknown assailants during an ambush in 1998. Arreaga, who has a history of clashes with the Bautista family regarding logging practices in the Coyuquilla Valley, was taken into custody in 2004, six years after the incident, despite his contention that he was nowhere near the scene of the murder. Several people supported his alibi, which was that he was at a wedding at the time (see SourceMex, 2005-04-20).

Federal Judge Ricardo Salinas, who was asked to review the case, said there was insufficient evidence to hold Arreaga on murder charges. He immediately ordered Arreaga's release.

"I'm not resentful, I don't have any enemies," Arreaga said after his release. "My fight is for the forests."

This is the second time that intervention from the courts has resulted in the release of environmental activists who have been wrongly accused of a crime. In 2004, a federal judge ordered the release of two Raramuri Indian activists who had been imprisoned on trumped-up charges of drug and weapons violations (see SourceMex, 2004-06-30).

The court's decision to review the Arreaga case was partly the result of lobbying from Guerrero Gov. Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo, who took office in April of this year. Torreblanca, a member of the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD), handily defeated his rival from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which had governed the state for many generations (see SourceMex, 2005-02-16).

The PRI had managed to remain in office in poor southern states like Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas by forging alliances with local leaders and powerful landholders in small towns and rural areas. The PRI's influence, however, appears to be on the decline in many rural areas in the south, as many of its supporters turn to the PRD or stay away from the polls. This trend was especially apparent in Guerrero, where the PRD seized the gubernatorial seat from the PRI in February, followed by decisive victories in municipal and local state legislative elections in October. …