MEXICO CITY – A Mexican environmental activist said Thursday that criminals kidnapped 17 of his relatives from a small community in the southern state of Guerrero.
In remarks to MVS radio, Ignacio Salto Villa said a group of gunmen abducted his family members Sunday morning in Cerro Verde, a village in the highlands of the Costa Grande region.
“All of them are my relatives. They took all of them away except my niece,” Isabel Salto, because of her late-term pregnancy, the secretary-general of the Hermenegildo Galeana Free Front peasant environmentalist group said.
The activist said he learned of the abductions from an individual who phoned him and offered to release his relatives in exchange for information about associates of environmental activists Eva Alarcon and Marcial Bautista, who were kidnapped in Guerrero on Dec. 7 while en route to Mexico City.
“You’re asking me to be an informant and I can’t lend myself to that,” Salto Villa – who received the call in Lazaro Cardenas, a town in the neighboring state of Michoacan – said he told the individual.
After the phone conversation, the activist said he traveled to Cerro Verde and confirmed that his relatives had been abducted. “Regrettably, I only found my niece, frightened, terrified,” he told the radio station.
“(On Wednesday), we went to the town with the army and it’s abandoned,” he said, adding that he hopes investigators can determine the whereabouts of his relatives.
Salto Villa told the media outlet he had seen Bautista on just a few occasions and had never had any contact with Alarcon.
Since Bautista worked to protect woodland areas through his Organization of Peasant Environmentalists of the Sierra de Petatlan, the kidnappers of “my relatives figured we may have information on them because we were involved in the same thing,” he said.
Army troops and federal agents detained 28 police officers for questioning in connection with the disappearance of Bautista and Alarcon, Mexico’s defense department said last Friday.
Taken into custody were four Guerrero state police officers and 24 members of the municipal force in Tecpan de Galeana.
Meanwhile, the families of Bautista and Alarcon said Tuesday they are prepared to negotiate with the captors and urged authorities to expedite the investigation.
“We energetically call on the federal government to investigate these regrettable events,” Coral Rojas, the daughter of Eva Alarcon, said. “We ask their captors to respect their lives ... and to call us to negotiate their release.”
“We environmentalists dedicate ourselves to defending the forests,” Rojas said, adding that the motive for the kidnapping remains unknown.
The two activists also are affiliated with the nationwide Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, or MPJD, founded by prominent poet Javier Sicilia to press for an end to the drug war that has claimed 50,000 lives in Mexico since December 2006.
Bautista and Alarcon had sought police protection after receiving threats, the MPJD said.
Another environmental activist, Javier Torres Cruz, who had sought to protect highland forests in Guerrero from drug traffickers wanting to clear land for opium crops, was killed in April in the town of Petatlan.
Guerrero is being fought over by several drug cartels that covet its Pacific coastline and mountains where marijuana and opium poppy are grown. EFE