Mexico: Forest guardian suffered head trauma and drowning

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Mourners pray around the coffin of environmental activist Homero Gomez Gonzalez at his wake in Ocampo, Michoacan state, Mexico, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. Relatives of the anti-logging activist who fought to protect the winter habitat of monarch butterflies don't know whether he was murdered or died accidentally, but they say they do know one thing for sure: something bad is happening to rights and environmental activists in Mexico, and people are afraid.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

OCAMPO – An anti-logging activist prominent in efforts to protect a Mexican forest where monarch butterflies spend the winter suffered a head trauma as well as drowning, authorities announced Thursday night, potentially adding weight to the fears of family and other activists that he was murdered.

Even before the announcement, relatives of Homero Gómez González speculated his death wasn't accidental and said bad things are happening to human rights and environmental activists in Mexico, and people are afraid.

“Something strange is happening, because they’re finishing off all the activists, the people who are doing something for society,” the dead man's brother, Amado Gomez, said Thursday at the funeral.

The body was discovered Wednesday in a holding pond near the mountain forest reserve that Gómez González long protected. Michoacan state prosecutors had said a few hours later that an initial review indicated a drowning and found no signs of trauma, but their latest statement said more detailed autopsy results produced evidence of a head injury.

Authorities gave no other information on the injury and did not say how it might have been inflicted. They said an investigation continued, suggesting the case wasn't considered an accident.

The threadbare clothes of the mourners and the few candles and simple floral arrangements at Gómez Gonzalez’s funeral underlined the tough background of the struggle being played out in the butterflies’ winter nesting grounds, where the creatures shelter in the tall pine and fir forests.

Grinding poverty and gang violence fuel twin threats to the butterfly reserve — illegal logging and encroaching plantations of avocados. The latter is the only legal crop that provides a decent income in this region.

For the last decade, Gómez Gonzàlez fought to keep loggers out of the reserve, leading marches, demonstrations and anti-logging patrols. He tried to persuade the government to increase the meager stipend that local farmers receive for preserving trees.