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Irma Galindo Barrios

Mixteca land defender Irma Galindo Barrios—who has peacefully fought against illegal logging in the Mexican state of Oaxaca in recent years—has been missing since October 27, 2021. (Photo: Family lawyer)

Concern Grows for Mexican Land Defender Irma Galindo Barrios, Missing Nearly 3 Weeks

"Her disappearance adds to the already long list of attacks... which from December 2018 to July 2021 have claimed the lives of 93 human rights defenders who have been assassinated."

Brett Wilkins

Human rights defenders in Mexico's Oaxaca state and beyond are demanding the safe return of an Indigenous forest defender who disappeared nearly three weeks ago after years of activism against illegal logging and corrupt local officials who enable and profit from it.

"Irma has revealed the depredation of the forest, as well as the corruption and collusion between loggers and authorities who illegally act against those who defend the territory."

Irma Galindo Barrios, a 38-year-old Mixteca woman from Mier y Terán in San Esteban Atatlahuca municipality, was last seen alive on October 27, according to the National Network of Human Rights Defenders in Mexico (RNDDHM). She was meant to attend the Government Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists conference in Mexico City, but never arrived.

"Once again, violence reaches us," the Indigenous-led environmental group State Space in Defense of Oaxaca's Native Corn said in a statement. "Once again the lives of those who defend Mother Earth, the territory, the corn, and the forests are in danger."

In recent years, Galindo dedicated her life to defending forests in the Mixteca region from illegal logging operations. In 2019, she filed a complaint against local officials for harassment and persecution. That November, her home was burned down; an investigation of the attack has since stalled.

Days before Galindo's disappearance, 70 gunmen attacked residents of Mier y Terán and Guerrero Grande. According to El Universal, they killed at least five people: Marcos Barrio Avendaño, age 80; Marcos Quiroz Reaño, 65; Tomás García Barrios, 41; and Paulina Sandoval Bautista and Teodoro Velasco Sandoval, both 95 years old and both burned to death in their home as they were unable to flee.

"There aren't any government officials who will go and see how we live... They only send in money that is used to buy weapons that are used to kill us," Galindo wrote on Facebook before she disappeared, according to The Guardian. "If there are organizations or groups that want to help us, they end up being criminalized, threatened, and harassed. Where does this end? What follows?"

State Space in Defense of Oaxaca's Native Corn said that Galindo's disappearance "is framed within the context of the violence that in recent months has raged against the Mixteca and in general throughout Oaxaca against those who raise their voices against this system that seeks to destroy everything in its path, with special interest in the territories that have been protected by native peoples and peasants who recognize themselves as one with the land, the forest, the river, and the mountains, protecting them from the petty interests of capital and power."

The group continued:

For several years now, Irma, from the Ñuù Savi people (Mixteca) has denounced the clandestine felling of trees in the Tlaxiaco area... Irma has revealed the depredation of the forest, as well as the corruption and collusion between loggers and authorities who illegally act against those who defend the territory.

Since 2018, Irma has been the victim of harassment, defamation, intimidation, and death threats by state officials. The indifference, impunity, and omission of the authorities and the continuity of the pattern of violence towards land defenders led to her losing her home in a 2019 fire... Her disappearance adds to the already long list of attacks on human rights and environmental defenders, which from December 2018 to July 2021 have claimed the lives of 93 human rights defenders who have been assassinated.

Last year—the deadliest ever for environmental activists—saw at least 30 Mexican land defenders murdered, an increase of 67% from 2019, according to Global Witness. Only Colombia, with 65 reported killings, suffered more such murders.

"We demand the immediate presentation of comrade Irma Galindo Barrios, alive," the State Space in Defense of Oaxaca's Native Corn statement continued. "We demand an exhaustive search, without delay... We demand a state and a country where human rights and land defenders live free and without fear... We demand that no one else die to defend the forest, the corn, the rivers, the lakes, the sea, the territory, and life."

"May the voice of those who defend life never again be silenced," the group added. "When they touch one advocate, they touch us all!"

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