Borderland Beat: Tabasco/ Chiapas: Environmental Activist Assassinated

Yaqui for Borderland Beat from: RadioFormula y Zonafranca

                        Environmental activist killed in Tabasco, Facebook: José Luis Álvarez

The man was 64 years old and was originally from the municipality of Emiliano Zapata, Tabasco

By: Blanca Cortés Martínez   June 11, 2019

On Monday the lifeless body of activist and ecologist José Luis Álvarez Flores was found, in the region of Los Ríos, which is located on the border between Tabasco and Chiapas .

According to the first reports, his body had several gunshot wounds and the murder occurred around 12:25 hours, at kilometer three of the Ejido Calatraba road , in the municipality of Palenque, Chiapas. .

José Luis Álvarez was in charge of the Environmental Management Unit (UMA) Saraguato -Mono , ( a rare maya or howler monkey) that predominates in the area and which he sought to protect from road accidents. In addition, at various times he made accusations about illegal extraction of sand in the Usumacinta River.

Derived from these works, he received several threats , therefore, users of social networks claim that those who threatened him are responsible for his death.

“El Tío Saraguato”, protector of monkeys, alerted the theft of sand from the Usumacinta River banks…… and they killed him for it.

In 2011, José Luis Álvarez founded the UMA Saraguato in the southeast of Tabasco, on the Usumacinta river bank, to conserve the howler monkey, the green iguana and the tiger heron, which are in danger of extinction.

The renowned environmentalist in Tabasco,  José Luis Álvarez Flores,  “El Tío Saraguato” , accused  the federal authorities of the  National Water Commission (Conagua)  and the  Federal Office of Environmental Protection (Profepa)  two weeks ago of “overlapping” the  banks of illegal sand extraction  in the Usumacinta river region, refuge for the Saragossa monkeys in danger of extinction.

“The federal authorities, which in this case are Profepa and Conagua, which do not close the illegal activities that have been carried out for a long time […]which overlap Park boundaries. They do not make their mitigation measures, nor do they have Permits , they do not pay taxes or anything, “he said on May 20 in an interview posted on their networks.

Hours after learning about his murder this week, José Luis received several messages on his Facebook profile where his relatives recognized his altruistic work and  demanded justice from the authorities.

“I send you a big hug to the sky where an army of monkeys, jaguars and other friends of the animal world will honor you”, wrote a user who identified himself as his friend.

According to data from the United Nations (UN) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in the first four months of 2019 there were 10 murders of activists and human rights defenders, of which 8  were indigenous.

This figure represents a significant increase in violence against this sector, since in all of 2018, 13 cases were documented.

In the ranch of his property, located in the town of Chablé in the municipality of Emiliano Zapata, southeast of Tabasco, José Luis founded the first UMA Saraguatos in Mexico in 2011.

It is a unit on the bank of the Usumacinta River of 345 hectares “to preserve for the moment the monkey, the green iguana and the tiger heron,” he explained in a video under a monkey hanging from a tree. “We are eager”.

             Saraguato monkeys in branches of a conservation tree. Photo: UMA Saraguatos.

Álvarez, a native of Mexico City, noted that these monkeys – also called “maya” or howler – are the best seed dispersers in the region, so they have expanded the endemic plants that attract birds such as the capulín.

Eight years ago they started with 74 monkeys in the reserve and in May they already had about 300, according to their census. The UMA, which does not have government support, receives free visits and donations for maintenance.

Pedro, an environmentalist who met him when several associations sought to form the “Red Tabasco OSC”, said in an interview that the Saragosses were “his biggest concern”, because in the area of ​​the 150 kilometer VHSA-Palenque highway there were monkeys run over by dozens.

“He asked the federal government for pedestrian bridges to prevent more deaths of the species and had positive results,” he said.

The UMA, he said, went on to receive visitors from all sides and created ecological awareness for the prevention of endemic species. “A beloved character, he moved with his means and performed the tasks he needed to maintain the UMA. I was already where I wanted to be, “he described.

For one of his close friends, he was doing a great work for Tabasco. “Your altruism no one will forget because you gave a great example to the Tabasco society of Emiliano Zapata, Chablé and annexes,” he wrote.

“El Tío Saraguato” also managed the civil association Conservación de la Biodiversidad del Usumacinta (COBIUS). In a recent interview he published in his networks, José Luis accused the illegal extraction of sand in the Usumacinta River on Profepa and Conagua, for letting it continue right in front of their eyes.

“He intended to preserve the Usumacinta River, the ‘Great Blue Monkey’. In the Mayan legends, the father of the Saraguatos, protectors of the jungle,” said Pedro, an activist who met him this year. “That’s why they killed him,” he added after a pause.

The Saragosamo monkeys are in danger of extinction due to deforestation, agricultural expansion and human infrastructure. In Tabasco there are the only two species of monkeys in Mexico: the mantled howler monkey and the black howler monkey. The areas mainly of the lower basin of the Usumacinta River constitute a priority region for its conservation.

               A green iguana, also preserved in UMA Saraguato. Photo: UMA Saraguato.

“He made a public statement. Among civil society organizations, he commented at meetings. But as here we are all ‘pure rabbit’, because nobody believed that he would be in real danger of being killed, ” said Pedro.

Another Facebook user of the environmental sector claimed that he had been killed “with premeditation, treachery and advantage, for denouncing depredations and illegalities”, for which he demanded that “a real and thorough investigation be carried out, and that the guilty parties be punished” for that they stop murders to the people who fight to preserve the fauna and the flora, like the “Uncle Saraguato”.

For his part, the president of the UMA condemned the “cowardly murder, demanded justice, to protect his family and other defenders who were threatened.”

In addition, he stated that the protector of Saragosses had requested protection from the authorities for the death threats received on various occasions, however, they never supported him.

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