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Anti-logging activist killed in western Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Authorities in western Mexico said Thursday they are investigating the killing of an Indigenous anti-logging activist, the latest in a round of murders and disappearances in the region.

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Authorities in western Mexico said Thursday they are investigating the killing of an Indigenous anti-logging activist, the latest in a round of murders and disappearances in the region.

Prosecutors in the violence-plagued state of Michoacan said Alfredo Cisneros was shot to death earlier in the week in the Purepecha Indigenous village of Sicuicho.

Cisneros was a local leader and an anti-logging activist, and a member of the community land council. The Indigenous communities of Michoacan have fought for years against mining and illegal logging that target the pine and fir forests of the mountainous region. Loggers often clear-cut trees to plant avocados, a highly lucrative export crop in Michoacan.

The killing came just over a month after two community anti-mining activists disappeared in another part of Michoacan. Their bullet-ridden vehicle was found on a roadway.

The Supreme Indigenous Council of Michoacan said in a statement that Cisneros “was an untiring defender of the forests, and the collective rights and lands of Sicuicho.”

The council said he denounced “the illegal logging of pine forests, and fought against the changes in land use that promote the excessive planting of avocados.” It said armed gangs, which it called “paramilitary groups,” have tried to take over communal land and forests.

For decades, Michoacan was the only state in Mexico authorized to export avocados to the U.S. market, sparking a rush to plant the fruit. A few towns have been able to keep the loggers and avocado orchards out, but they are under constant pressure and threats of violence.

In other areas where activists have been kidnapped and threatened, like Villa Madero, Michoacan, there are indications that drug cartels may be involved with loggers and illegal avocado orchards.

Julio Santoyo, an anti-logging activist in Villa Madero, said the state government and growers' associations have promoted avocados as the answer for the state's farmers, increasing hostility toward environmentalists.

“We who defend the environment are seen as the enemies of progress and as outcasts who want to block development,” said Santoyo. “The killers who devastate the environment assume they can attack our lives and liberties as a normal thing, with little chance of being punished.”

The council said Indigenous inhabitants from Cisnero's town had blocked local highways to protest and demand the killers be brought to justice.

“In Michoacan, impunity and crime reign freely,” the council said.

As if to underscore that point, prosecutors reported Thursday that gunmen had shot to death six people at a park in the town of Suhuayo, north of Sicuicho.

The dead included five men and a woman; the motives remain under investigation, but the area near the neighboring state of Jalisco has been the scene of bloody turf battles between the Jalisco cartel and local gangs.

Indigenous towns like Sicuicho are also being swept by an Indigenous independence movement, in which they declare themselves autonomous from local township governments.

While the Council depicts this as an attempt to preserve Purepecha customs and language, many villages do so to get direct access to federal and state funds, without having to go through often corrupt township governments.

The killing of Cisneros came just over a month after lawyer Ricardo Lagunes and schoolteacher Antonio Díaz disappeared near the town of Aquila, Michoacan on Feb. 15.

The two had been active in fighting a massive iron ore mine in the town of Aquila. Inhabitants have long complained the massive open-pit mine caused pollution and drew violence to the area, while offering little benefit to residents.

Despite a large-scale search and international pressure to find the two men, there has been no word on their fate.

The Associated Press