"If I am freed, I will continue to fight logging"
By Diego Cevallos*
NGOs are waging an international campaign for the release of Isidro Baldenegro, a Mexican Indian who has fought illegal logging and deforestation. From prison, where he has been held for more than a year, Baldenegro spoke with Tierramérica.
MEXICO CITY - Charges of weapons and drugs possession have kept Mexican indigenous activist Isidro Baldenegro behind bars for more than a year. He is a staunch opponent of logging in a community of the Tarahumara Sierra in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.
While human rights and environmental groups, like Amnesty International and Greenpeace, are calling for his release, arguing he is a prisoner of conscience, Baldenegro tallies up more days in prison, where he works as a plumber. "Here we are just losing time," because the logging continues. "The worst is that nothing can be done," he told Tierramérica.
Lawyers following the legal proceedings say the case against Baldenegro, a poor peasant farmer who taught himself to read and write, say it has entered its final phase, and that in a few months he may be released, or sentenced to more than 10 years.
Baldenegro says he is innocent and is confident he will regain his freedom. Meanwhile, the human rights and environmental groups assert that the charges against him were concocted by the Mexican mafia dedicated to logging the Tarahumara forests.
Q: Who is to blame for the fact that you are behind bars?
A: We think it could be the logging bosses or the buyers who we have been fighting. They are the ones who want to keep destroying the forest.
Q: With your arrest, did those people meet their objective? To continue logging?
A: My friends tell me that, unfortunately, the logging goes on, which makes me a little sad, and I can't do anything about it. But they also tell me that they are continuing the fight, and that makes me feel a little better.
Q: There is a national and international campaign to demand your release from prison. What do you think about that effort?
A: Well, my friends tell me how some groups are participating, but in truth I have little information about it. I think the publications and denunciations they make do help, because the whole world sees it, and maybe the judge in my case can give priority to the proceedings so that I can be released.
Q: Are you innocent of all the charges? Is what you are going through an injustice?
A: Completely. And being a prisoner is discouraging, but I don't want to be thinking that because it makes it worse. I am confident, like my attorney says, that we can be out of here soon, because the charges are unfounded.
Q: Human rights groups have asked President Vicente Fox to intervene on your behalf. What do you think the president can do?
A: I would like to see if the president calls the authorities to ask them to give priority to the agrarian problems in my community in Tarahumara. As for me, I would only ask that he seek a way to speed up the case.
Q: What is your message to other peasant farmers who oppose the destruction of forests?
A: What I can do is issue an appeal: the environment and its resources are the inheritance of those to come in the future. I want the children to know about these riches and to take advantage of them in a sustainable way, just as our grandparents did.
Q: Do you think the government is doing enough to defend the forests and to protect the environment?
A: The agrarian laws and the ones the government commissions are working on are well-written texts, but they are not implemented. What I am seeing is continued destruction, and I believe that much of that is related to corruption. They need to apply the laws with justice, and then I will say they are doing the right thing.
Q: If you are released, what do plan on doing?
A: If I get out of here some day, the idea is to keep going. I wouldn't do it if the community didn't support me, and if that happened I would give my thanks and would retire. But I would continue fighting against logging in other places.
* Diego Cevallos is an IPS correspondent