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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 7, 2001
11:59 AM
CONTACT:  Sierra Club
Alejandro Queral, Sierra Club, 202-675-6279
Folabi Olagbaju, Amnesty International, 202-544-0200

New Mexican Environmental Crusade is Incomplete
 
WASHINGTON - March 7 - On the day Mexican President Vicente Fox announced a new "National Crusade for the Forests and Water", the Sierra Club and Amnesty International,USA expressed concern that it will be difficult to encourage citizen environmentalism when two environmentalists remain in prison and many continue to face threats and harassment.

Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, two farmers and environmental activists are currently in prison for their efforts to halt the rampant logging in their farming community in the state Guerrero, Mexico.

"While we are pleased that President Fox is making efforts to improve environmental protection in Mexico by encouraging citizens to work with the government, there appears to be a double standard when environmental activists are sitting in jail for doing what the government is now asking of its citizens," said Alejandro Queral of Sierra Club's Human Rights and Environment program.

Montiel, one of the founding members of the Organización de Campesinos Ecologistas de la Sierra de Petatlan y Coyuca de Catalan, A.C. (Organization of Campesino Environmentalists of the Sierra de Petatlan and Coyuca de Catalan), organized farmers to oppose the rampant and illegal logging in these mountains in Guerrero, Mexico. Montiel and Cabrera, who have been named "Prisoners of Conscience" by Amnesty International, have been imprisoned since May of 1999 when the two men were arrested, beaten and tortured.

"If President Fox wants to foster a civil society where citizens feel comfortable participating, then Montiel and Cabrera should be released immediately and unconditionally," said Folabi Olagbaju Director of Amnesty International's Human Rights and the Environment program.

The case of the two environmentalists has received international attention. Most recently, the Associated Press reported that President Fox's own Environment Minister, Victor Lichtinger, visited the men in prison and wished them "good luck." The case was also featured in the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights which noted that Mexico's National Human Rights Commission "charged that the military falsified evidence against [the two men], tortured them, violated their rights to due process, and harassed residents in their home village."

In February, noted human rights advocate Ethel Kennedy traveled to Mexico to present Montiel with the Sierra Club's Chico Mendes award for environmental heroism.

The concerns of Amnesty International and the Sierra Club have been echoed by members of Fox's administration. The Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported that Rodolfo Lacy, Coordinator of Advisors to the Minister of the Environment, said, " We commented about 'how are we going to make a call on society to participate on the national crusade to defend the forests and water if those that participate are detained?'" The comment was made on February 6th at the Sierra Club press conference held in Mexico City to present the Chico Mendes award to Montiel.

An "amparo" or, special appeal, for Montiel and Cabrera was filed last week. A decision on the appeal is expected later this month.

For more information, visist Sierra Club and Amnesty International's joint webpage at www.defendtheearth.org

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