The Monarch Butterfly Crime: Who Murdered Homer Gomez and Why?
The Mexican conservationist's, who had disappeared two weeks ago, was found yesterday northwest of Michoacan, one of the country's most violent regions.
Every October millions of monarch butterflies arrive in Mexico in an arduous odyssey from the eastern regions of the United States and Canada. Their fluttering simulates the sound of rain, they dress the trees in orange and black colors. Their return, winter after winter, heralds the Day of the Dead. It is no accident that tribes such as the Purepecha, who inhabit the Michoacán region, consider the Monarchs to be "the souls of the dead".
Homero Gómez (50), an agronomist and conservationist at the El Rosario sanctuary, one of the largest in the world and located in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, was known by all for his environmental activism. His steadfast fight to conserve the local forest and his love for these winged insects often clashed with the interests of illegal loggers who cut down the oyamel firs where the butterflies gather to keep warm.
So when he disappeared on January 13, environmental rights groups feared the worst. Because poachers shoot and then ask questions; the criminal gangs that control vast areas of Mexico extort and kill anyone who might interfere with their activities, especially in Michoacán, the epicenter of the cartel's and other criminal groups' violence.
Mexico is the sixth country in the world with the most murders of environmental defenders, mostly of indigenous origin.
The family reported the disappearance a day later when their mobile phone became silent. Up to 200 volunteers went out in search of Homero Gómez, and several government agencies were also involved. But after two weeks, there was no trace of the environmentalist. The mood was low, an official from the state human rights commission told Reuters that they had come across illegal loggers "working" in the area. Had it been them? Where were they keeping him? Had he been killed already?
The news of his death came sadly, though not surprisingly. The spokeswoman for the state prosecutor's office, Magdalena Guzmán, reported yesterday that his body had been found in a large rainwater storage tank in Ocampo, the Michoacán municipality where his trail was lost.
Almost as the butterfly that flapping its wings in Hong Kong can produce a hurricane in San Diego, this new crime has left environmental rights fighters dismayed, both inside and outside the country. The case adds to that of many other environmentalists murdered in the region, most of whom are of indigenous origin:
"These aggressions (to indigenous people) are almost 80% of the cases. In the case of Oaxaca, Puebla and Michoacán, 100% of those attacked are indigenous", points out Gustavo Sánchez, director for the Mexican Network of Peasant Forest Organizations (MOCAF).
According to Global Witness, Mexico was the fourth most dangerous country for the defenders of the Earth in 2018, with more than 14 murders, and although the country fell to sixth place last year, it took the same number of victims. Many continue to wonder how the Lopez Obrador government plans to stop the escalation of violence in a nation where there were more than 34,500 homicides in 2019, including activists like Homero Gomez.
While his death remains a symbol that not only nature but also its children are at great risk, those who are responsible remain unpunished.