On Monday, April 24th, prosecutors in Mexico said they have charged two men in the Jan. 15 disappearance of two environmental and community activists in the dangerous western Mexican state of Michoacan.
Lawyer Ricardo Lagunes and schoolteacher Antonio Díaz have been missing for over three months. Their bullet-ridden truck was found on a road near the iron-ore mining town of Aquila, in the western state of Michoacan.
Federal prosecutors did not say whether the two were still alive, nor did they specify what evidence led them to charge the two suspects. A prosecution spokesman did not answer messages seeking clarification.
Both suspects have been ordered to stand trial on charges of “disappearance,” defined as an abduction in which the victim isn’t heard from again.
The TDT Network, a rights group, said one of the suspects was a leader of a faction of farmers in the Indigenous community of Aquila.
It said the suspect — who was identified only by his first name, José, in keeping with Mexican legal procedures — had had disputes with Lagunes and Díaz in the past.
“It is worth noting that (suspect) José is one of the leaders of a group of Aquila farmers that has tried to present itself as the authorities of the community, and with whom Ricardo and Antonio had apparently had legal disputes in the past in representing the community,” the group said in a statement.
Warring drug cartels are active in the area around Aquila, and elsewhere in Michoacan state. But the group said the disappearances appeared to have much more to do with the giant iron-ore mine that operates in Aquila.
Disagreements over the mining royalty payments the mine provides to residents have long divided the community. Some inhabitants have long complained the massive open-pit mine caused pollution and drew violence to the area while offering little benefit to residents.
The disappearances 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.