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Environmental, Campaign & Website News > Mexican Environmentalists Montiel & Cabrera Freed

Mexican Environmentalists Montiel & Cabrera Freed

Date : 8th Nov 2001, Source : Newsgroup

Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera are Free!

In a surprise statement this afternoon, Mexico's President Vicente Fox announced the release of two earth defenders, Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, who have been in prison since May 2, 1999, for crimes they confessed to under duress of torture. At this hour, both men are out of prison and are safe.

The terms of the release are not yet fully known, and in his statement President Fox stopped short of describing the environmentalists as innocent. Still, the news is cause for great celebration for all members of the human rights and environmental communities, particularly those who worked so hard on behalf of both men.

While we take pause to celebrate today's news, we should continue to press the Mexican for a thorough investigation into the circumstances of Montiel and Cabrera's arrest and torture. Those who violated the human rights of both men should be brought to justice. Unless and until the Mexican government throws its full weight behind these efforts, it will remain unsafe to be an environmentalist in Mexico.

Let us use the occasion of Montiel and Cabrera's freedom to continue to press for these reforms in Mexico. Thanks to all for all the tireless work. As more details of their release become available, we will make sure to update you all.

Here is the press release issued by the Sierra Club and Amnesty International's joint Human Rights and the Environment Program this afternoon. If you have any questions, please contact Sam Parry at


For Immediate Release
November 8, 2001

Groups Call for Perpetrators of Abuses to be Brought to Justice

Washington, DC: The Sierra Club and Amnesty International, USA welcomed the decision of the Mexican government today to release two imprisoned environmentalists. The groups cautioned that much more needs to be done to ensure the safety of these heroes by recognizing their innocence and bringing justice to the perpetrators of the human rights abuses committed against them.

"Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera are environmental defenders who have undergone tremendous hardship for their work to protect their forests," said Alejandro Queral of the Sierra Club. "We are happy that they have been released, but defenders of human rights and the environment in Mexico will not be truly free and safe until those who threaten, torture and murder these heroes are brought to justice."

"We are pleased that these men have been released," said Diego Zavala, Amnesty International, USA's Mexico Country Specialist and liaison to its Just Earth! Program which has been working on the case since 1999. "However we are concerned that President Fox based his decision on humanitarian reasons without mentioning the human rights abuses committed against them or recognizing their innocence. Conditions for human rights workers and environmental defenders are still very dangerous in Mexico, particularly in light of the recent murder of human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa."

On May 2, 1999, Mr. Montiel and Mr. Cabrera were arrested by members of the Mexican Army. During the raid, the soldiers shot and killed Salomé Sanchez Ortiz, a local farmer. Mr. Montiel and Mr. Cabrera were subsequently beaten, tortured and forced to confess to drugs and weapons-related charges. On August 28, 2000, Mr. Montiel and Mr. Cabrera were convicted and sentenced to six-year and ten-year jail terms respectively. Last October, a judge denied an appeal to the two men. In October, a petition was filed in the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights by the defendants lawyers, Sierra Club, Greenpeace International, and the Center for Justice and International Law. The petition, which asks for an investigation into the torture and illegal arrests will not be withdrawn from the Commission.

The release of the environmentalists comes less than a month after the murder of their original defense lawyer, prominent human rights defender Digna Ochoa, who was shot to death on October 19 in her office in Mexico City. Ochoa's murderers left behind a note threatening workers at human rights center PRODH, raising concerns for their safety and that of all human rights and environmental activists in Mexico.

"It is tragic that Digna cannot be here to celebrate the release of Montiel and Cabrera," said Carmen Reed of Amnesty International, USA. "Her murder and the threats left behind are stark reminders that the struggle for the protection of human rights and environmental defenders does not end with Montiel and Cabrera's release."

"This step from the government of President Fox must be followed through with investigations into the torture and other abuses conducted by the Mexican Army against the two activists," said Queral. "Finding those responsible and bringing them to justice will help guarantee the safety of Montiel and Cabrera and other environmental and human rights defenders in Mexico."

Amnesty International and Sierra Club believe that the arrest and conviction of the two environmentalists stem solely from their efforts to stop the rampant logging in the southern state of Guerrero, Mexico. Both men were declared prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. Mr. Montiel, one of the founding members of the Organization of Campesino Environmentalists of the Sierra de Petatlán and Coyuca de Catalán, is a recipient of Sierra Club's Chico Mendes award for environmental heroism and of the Goldman Environmental Prize. His efforts to organize farmers to oppose the rampant and possibly illegal logging in the mountains in Guerrero, Mexico, and his plight at the hands of the Mexican government have earned worldwide respect and admiration. Thousands of people around the world wrote to the Mexican government expressing support for Mr. Montiel and Mr. Cabrera.


Mexican lawyer's death seen tied to logging fight
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MEXICO: November 8, 2001

MEXICO CITY - The killing last month of top Mexican rights lawyer Digna Ochoa is probably linked to a fierce battle between loggers and ecologists in the western state of Guerrero, Mexico City Prosecutor Bernardo Batiz said this week.

Ochoa was found shot to death in her private office in Mexico City on Oct. 19. She had won international acclaim for defending the poor and marginalized in Mexico, including two peasant ecologists from Guerrero widely seen as political prisoners.
"The lines of inquiry are pointing toward the state of Guerrero, toward the conflicts of the peasant farmers with logging groups," Batiz told reporters.
Ochoa was involved in the case of the two farmers, Teodoro Cabrera and Rodolfo Montiel, until mid-2000, when she left the Pro Juarez human rights center that is defending them.

In May 1999, Montiel was imprisoned for seven years on marijuana and gun charges and Cabrera received a 10-year sentence on gun charges. The two had founded a peasant environmental group fighting logging in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero.

Rights activists have rallied to their cause and say the men are being persecuted by powerful local bosses who are linked to illegal logging groups and who hold sway over local courts.

But Batiz refused to point the finger at possible suspects. He was due to hand over a file on the investigation's progress to President Vicente Fox later this week.

The ecologists' lawyers accused the army of torturing their clients and extracting false confessions out of them under duress. Ochoa and her co-workers at Pro Juarez were harassed and received death threats during the case.

The U.S. and French governments and rights organizations from around the world have condemned Ochoa's murder and urged Fox to bring those responsible to justice quickly.


Document last updated on Wednesday 01 August 2018

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