A lawyer for Indigenous communities and a communal leader disappear in Michoacán

Antonio Díaz Valencia (left) and Ricardo Arturo Lagunes Gasca (right).

By: Ernesto Martínez, Elio Henríquez, correspondents and Jessica Xantomila, reporter

The lawyer for Indigenous communities Ricardo Arturo Lagunes Gasca and Antonio Díaz Valencia, a teacher and community leader from Aquila, Michoacán, have been missing since January 15, when they returned from an assembly in the Nahua community of Aquila, their relatives and members of human rights organizations reported. The van in which they were traveling appeared with impacts from firearms.

The Office in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN-DH), Amnesty International Mexico, the Fray Matías de Córdova Center, the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center and the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba), among others, demanded from the authorities the prompt appearance of the lawyer and the professor alive.

The Frayba, in which Ricardo Lagunes collaborated several years ago, demanded from the Mexican State the prompt appearance of the lawyer and the communal leader alive. In addition, it pointed out that their disappearance “takes place in a context of murders, threats, intimidation, harassment and physical attacks against communities in the region.”

The area in red is Aquila, a municipality on the Pacific Coast of Michoacán.

Residents of the Nahua area of Aquila blocked for the second day, every three hours, the bridge on the coastal highway that connects Michoacán with Colima, to demand the search for the lawyer and the professor.

Authorities reported that the day contact with Ricardo and Antonio was lost, on the border between Michoacán and Colima, on the federal highway to Manzanillo, in the area with speed bumps near Cerro de Ortega, municipality of Tecomán, the white pick-up truck in which they were traveling was located, which had bullet impacts.

Lagunes Gasca and Díaz Valencia attended a general assembly in the Nahua community of Aquila, about the renewal of the communal property authorities, which for reasons beyond the control of the 465 community members had been postponed for two years.

A community member points out the site of the mine in Aquila. Photo: La Jornada.

Ricardo Lagunes provided legal accompaniment in the indigenous community of Aquila, where there is a lot of mining activity and internal conflicts that are generating serious impacts on the area. In the above photo a community member indicates the iron extraction area of the Ternium Las Encinas mine, which for 10 years has been a focus of conflict because the company intends to reduce royalties for using the land where the deposit is located.

At the end of the meeting, according to the last communication with them, around 6:50 p.m., the lawyer and the activist headed towards Coahuayana to reach the capital of Colima; but they never arrived. “Therefore, it is presumed that Professor Valencia and defender Ricardo Lagunes were deprived of their freedom by unknown persons, a situation that puts their physical integrity and life at serious risk,” says the text signed by their relatives and civil organizations.

Ricardo Lagunes was founder of Asesoría y Defensa Legal del Sureste and has a long national and international career in the defense of collective rights and ejido and communal lands against megaprojects, dispossession and human rights violations, in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Yucatan and Campeche, which has allowed the protection of thousands of hectares of collective lands, of valuable ecosystems and collective rights, especially of indigenous communities.

The Pacific Coast of Aquila, Michoacán, Mexico.

Guillermo Fernández-Maldonado, representative of the UN-DH in Mexico, said that the disappearance of these two defenders “is a terrible and alarming fact. In this country, defending human rights is an absolutely paramount task, which must be protected. This crime not only undermines the human rights of both defenders, but also seeks to generate fear among those who defend the rights recognized by law.”

The disappearance was reported to the National Search Commission and was registered with folio 1AA67B3D1-8CAF-4A7D-979A-78B786BA141E.

The Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists was also notified, since Lagunes Gasca had precautionary measures; the National Human Rights Commission was also notified.

See also Luis Hernández Navarro’s article on mining and organized crime in the region: https://chiapas-support.org/2020/03/29/santa-maria-ostula-mining-and-organized-crime/

Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada, Wednesday, January 18, 2023, https://www.jornada.com.mx/2023/01/18/estados/027n1est and Re-Published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee

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