MEXICO CITY (AP) — An Indigenous anti-mining activist has been killed in a dangerous part of western Mexico, authorities confirmed Tuesday.
The killing of Eustacio Alcalá comes just over two months after two other community anti-mining activists disappeared near where Acalá’s body was found.
It reinforced Mexico’s reputation as the deadliest place in the world for environmental and land defense activists, according to a report by the nongovernmental group Global Witness, which said Mexico saw 54 activists killed in 2021.
Alcalá was found dead days after he disappeared while driving on a highway known for violent incidents on Saturday. He was driving a group of nuns or lay religious workers —it wasn’t clear which— in his truck, when they were pulled over by armed men. The nuns were later released, the activist group All Rights For Everyone said.
Alcalá had led a largely successful fight to prevent an iron ore mine from opening near his Nahua village of San Juan Huitzontla. Residents argued the proposed mine would pollute waterways and damage the environment.
The village is near the townships of Aquila and Coalcomán in the western state of Michoacán. The area has been on the front line of drug cartel turf battles for years.
Prosecutors in Michoacán state said Alcalá’s body had bullet wounds. They said he was kidnapped over the weekend.
Human rights groups demanded the killers be brought to justice.
“We demand an exhaustive investigation,” said the Centro Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez, a human rights group that helped Alcalá’s village win a court injunction against the mine last year.
The area is known for its iron ore deposits, which in the past have proved a magnet for drug cartels seeking to extort money from mining companies. In the previous decade, one gang even exported iron ore.
The two activists who disappeared in January have not been seen since their bullet-ridden vehicle was found on a roadway.
The two had been active in fighting a big iron ore mine in the town of Aquila. Inhabitants have long complained the open-pit mine caused pollution and drew violence to the area, while offering little benefit to residents.
Michoacán has long been plagued by environmental degradation and turf battles that currently pit the Jalisco cartel against the local Viagras drug gang.
In February, Michoacán anti-logging activist Alfredo Cisneros was shot to death in the Purepecha Indigenous village of Sicuicho.
The Indigenous communities of Michoacán have fought for years against mining and illegal logging that target the pine and fir forests of the mountainous region. Loggers often clear-cut trees to plant avocados, a highly lucrative export crop in Michoacán.