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Logging out…

31 May 2007

Smugglers, a police-army operation, angry locals, politics, death threats. Nope, it isn’t drugs. It’s something much more valuable: wood and water.

(Today’s Jornada story by Israel Davila and Rene Ramon. My translation)

Over 300 residents of San Pedro Nexapa, a community in Amecameca, Mexico (State) frustrated a joint police-military operation meant to combat illegal logging. For three hours yesterday, residents detained 45 persons, including soldiers, state police and federal inspectors..

 

About noon yesterday, the Federal Prosecutor for the Environment (Profepa, for its abbreviation in Spanish), the Forestry Service (Probosque), 10 soldiers, AFI (Agencia Federal de Investigación – federal police) and ASE (Agencia de Securidad Estatal, State Police) detained six presumed illegal loggers and seized a light truck filled with wood in the mountain forests around San Pedro Nexapa and the nearby community of San Juan Tehuixtitlán.

 

However, upon returning to San Pedro Nexapa, a community near Popocatépl volcano, they were met by over a hundred residents, who were joined about another two hundred people.

 

Following two hours of negotiations, the authorities agreed to set the six loggers free and return the truck and its cardo. About 16:30, the residents freed the Profepa and Probosque inspectors, along with the 10 soliders from Zona Miliar 37-B and the AFI and ASE agents.

 

Meanwhile, the mayor of Ocuilan, Félix Alberto Linares González, announced that military patrols would continue indefinitely in the forests to stop clandestine logging. The official was joined by the Secretary of National Defense, Guillermo Galván Galván.

 

The Interior Secretary for the State of Mexico, Humberto Benítez, also announced that a permanent detachment of State Police would be sent to assist municipal authorities.

 

On Wednesday, an Edil (roughly equivalent to a “county commissioner”) representing the PRD, sought federal and state assistance after receiving death threats following discussions with the Secretary of Defense about the Army’s role in protecting forests in the Sierra de Zempoala, on the Mexico-Morelos state line.

 

The 22nd Military Zone, headquartered in Toluca, was given responsibility for setting up roadblocks in the area, as requested by the Edil.

 

The Army has taken on two anti-logging operations in the area around the lakes of Zempoala, and state police sent 10 officers to assist, but recalled them after only two days.

 

Thirty members of the Rapid Reaction force of the State Police were sent to Ocuilan and the State also sent more than a dozen long and short arms for the ten municipal policemen working in this community.

 

The police have been unable to identify the person or persons responsible for the 15 May murder of Aldo Zamora, the son of local environmentalist Idelfonso Zamora.

 

Linares González, the mayor of Ocuilan, reminded the press that there is an initiative awaiting approval by the State’s Governor, which will increase the penalties for illegal logging. The proposal was approved by a legislative committee last Friday, and is expected to approved next week.

 

Clandestine logging in the State of Mexico is not considered a serious crime, resulting only in penalties of two to eight years imprisonment. PRD, PAN and the State Governor all agreed that illegal logging should be considered a serious crime, which can result in a prison sentence of five to twenty years.

 

Illegal logging over the last 15 years has led to the deforestation of 1,500 of the 6000 hectares of forest in Paraje La Piedra, which lies in both Mexico and Morelos states. Those who depend on communal goods in San Juan Atzingo and Ocuilan have warned federal and state authorities that the damage is severe enough to affect the aquifers which the Federal District, as well as the local communities depend upon for their water.

For a lot of Mexican, illegal logging is as serious an issue as narcotics trafficking. The narcos, at least until recently, were exporting their products, but weren’t really damaging Mexico’s countryside, other than littering the place up with dead gangsters (and that’s why God invented vultures, anyway). And, marijuana and opium poppies are a relatively benign agricultural crop, not particularly damaging to the environment.

Over-logging though, in a country that is mostly desert or thin, acidic-soil jungle, is a very serious matter. As is protecting the watershed. It’s the Army’s task to guard natural resources, and only secondarily to go chasing narcos. While there are these sorts of national v. local fights (here, won temporarily by the locals, who will probably be defended by Zapatistas) it shows that the police and the Army do have REAL issues to deal with, and there are serious problems.

I don’t mean to make light of the narcotics traffickers, but I do think we — and the Mexican media — is giving the traffickers a lot more legitimacy and power by treating them as the #1 threat to the nation, rather than as common criminals who need their money and guns cut off, while ignoring serious long-term threats to the people’s survival.

Unfortunately, the Army and the Police don’t have a very good reputation for defending the people, and the people’s goods… another interesting thing about this story. Notice too that the local police normally don’t have weaponry, and the State Police had to send in armaments. If you were wondering why the local police in Cananae got massacred by gangsters a few weeks back, this is why. The gangsters buy illegal weapons, which the cops don’t have. The gangsters are fighting with American firepower and an American-style war against local coppers meant only to be officer unfriendly– rousting drunks, breaking up bar fights and shaking down speeding motorists.

I’m waiting to hear what was behind the huge turnout in San Pedro Nexapa, and who is behind it. Or who it’s blamed on. One possible clue is that the PRD and PAN both support stronger penalties for clandestine logging. That should leave the PRI, or local PRI officials as the “usual suspects,” or the old financial powers connected to the local PRI. Or gangsters… which may turn out to be the same folks.

This is one to watch.

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