Freed Mexican environmentalist says international solidarity played key role in his release.
Interview with Rodolfo Montiel
by Kent Paterson | May 3,
Free after languishing for more than two years in prison, Mexican peasant activist
Rodolfo Montiel recently got a chance to tour several cities in the United States
and raise the international profile of the environmental justice movement in Mexico.
Montiel won the Goldman Environmental Prize, the Sierra Club’s Chico Mendez
award, and other international recognition certificates for his leadership in
a grassroots movement to halt heavy logging-much of it by U.S. companies-in the
southern Mexican state of Guerrero.
Montiel received threats for his activities and in May 1999 the Mexican Army
arrested him and his colleague Teodoro Cabrera on weapons and drugs charges. They
were convicted and sentenced to six- and 10-year jail terms, respectively, on
August 28, 2000.
The Mexican government’s National Human Rights Commission ruled that evidence
against the activists was fabricated. But the military denied that its members
subjected the men to beatings, torture, and electric shock to extract confessions–accusations
that unleashed a letter-writing campaign on their behalf by some 135 human rights,
environmental and farm organizations in Mexico.
Amnesty International and the Sierra Club added their support to the solidarity
movement in an unprecedented joint effort and soon the campaign for the prisoners’
freedom gained support from American Lands Alliance Global Exchange, International
Forum on Globalization, Rainforest Action Network, and other worldwide organizations.
Appeals through judicial channels failed to win the case for Montiel and Cabrera,
but in the face of mounting criticism of his human rights policies by domestic
and international advocacy groups-criticism that peaked when the mens’ first lawyer,
Digna Ochoa, was murdered by unknown assailants-Mexican President Vicente Fox
finally ordered their release.
"I’ve found a new family that’s generous and caring," Montiel says
of his international backers, adding that they have inspired him to carry on his
struggle. "I feel a great commitment to those who have supported us and to
all those from the future generations that follow us."
Since Fox released Montiel and Cabrera on humanitarian grounds without pardons
or sanctions for their torture, the two men continue to press for full clearance
their names by means of a complaint with the OAS’s Inter-American Commission on
"We don’t feel free because they haven’t declared us innocent. We continue
being criminals for them," Montiel said.
Amnesty International and the Sierra Club continue to maintain that the arrest
and conviction of the two environmentalists stemmed solely from their efforts
to stop logging.
Kent Paterson is a freelance journalist based in Albuquerque and a frequent
contributor to the Americas Program.
"Fighters for the
Forests Are Released From Mexican Jail" | The New York Times , November
Released" |Sierra Club and Amnesty International, November 8, 2001
Mexican Lawyer’s Death
Seen Tied to Logging Fight" | Reuters, November 8, 2001
Needed to End Impunity" | borderlines UPDATER , November 20, 2001
"The Timber Industry
in Northern Mexico" | borderlines , February 2000
Published by the Americas
Program at the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC). ©2002. All
Kent Paterson, "Freed Mexican environmentalist says international solidarity
played key role in his release," Americas Program (Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric
Resource Center, May 3, 2002).