MEXICO CITY — Homero Gómez González, a former logger who became one of central Mexico's most prominent defenders of the region's monarch butterfly population, was found dead Wednesday.
Gómez González disappeared Jan. 13, sending a shock wave through communities of environmental conservationists in the United States and Mexico. Local authorities created search teams, and the state attorney general launched an investigation. Almost immediately, his fellow activists suspected loggers and criminal groups whom Gómez González might have upset in his conservation efforts.
Gómez González was found floating in a well near the butterfly sanctuary he had spent decades working to preserve, according to Miguel Angel Cruz, who succeeded Gómez González as commissioner of the community of El Rosario. The cause of death is not yet officially known.
In an interview with The Washington Post last month at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Preserve, Gómez González spoke about his efforts — and the challenges he faced as he tried to protect the migrating butterflies.
“It’s been a fight to maintain it,” he said. “And it hasn’t been easy.”
For as long as anyone can remember, millions of monarch butterflies have spent their winters on a few remote hilltops in the Mexican state of Michoacán. But logging in the region nearly destroyed their habitat, a convergence of geography and landscape that might have been impossible to replicate.
The Mexican government eventually outlawed logging in the area, giving new life to the monarch butterflies, but the restriction created enormous tension between local loggers and conservationists. Between 2005 and 2006, 461 hectares in the region were lost to illegal logging.
Gómez González spoke openly about growing up in a logging family that was initially skeptical about the idea of conservation, even as they marveled at the yearly arrival of the butterflies.
“We were afraid that if we had to stop logging, it would send us all into poverty,” he told The Post.
But he came around to the idea of the sanctuary, in part as he saw the potential for tourism. He began working with conservationists from the World Wildlife Fund and scientists from around the world. He created a Twitter account where he posted videos of himself in a cloud of monarchs, encouraging visitors to witness the magic. He posted the last one hours before he disappeared.
After he vanished, his family received calls from people claiming to have kidnapped him, demanding ransom payments.
More than 61,000 people are missing in Mexico, authorities said this month. The majority are suspected to be victims of criminal organizations. In Gómez González’s case, his neighbors and colleagues were left to guess at what might have happened to him.
“I have faith that we will find him. I want us to find him alive,” Michoacán Gov. Silvano Aureoles Conejo said this week.
Authorities found Gómez González’s body floating in a well in the community of El Soldado de Ocampo, not far from the butterfly sanctuary. Authorities told local media outlets that his body did not show any obvious signs of violence. But Gómez González’s friends didn’t have any details.
“For now, we don’t know anything,’ said Angel Cruz.
The Michoacán attorney general’s office confirmed the death but would not comment on the investigation into what happened.
“Since he was young, Homero has been behind the sanctuary,” said Gloria Tavera, an official with Mexico’s National Commission of Natural Protected Areas.
But Tavera, in an interview last week, said she didn’t think his disappearance was connected to his activism.
“We think they are independent things,” she said.
By Kevin Sieff - 03. Febebruary 2020
MEXICO CITY — Authorities are investigating the death of a part-time tour guide in one of Mexico’s largest butterfly sanctuaries — the second person connected to the reserve found dead in less than a week.
The body of Raúl Hernández Romero, 44, was found badly beaten with a sharp object on Saturday. The body of local politician Homero Gómez González, a well-known defender of the monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacan state was recovered last week after a two-week disappearance.
Hernández Romero was last seen Jan. 27 leaving his home in the municipality of Angangueo. His wife reported the disappearance to local authorities, who were then still searching for Gómez González.
Officials said they were uncertain of any connection between the two deaths, or between their deaths and their work in environmental conservation.
Hernández Romero was one of the men who showed Mexican and foreign tourists around the Rosario sanctuary. He pointed out the massive clusters of monarchs that hung from oyamel trees and scattered in an orange cloud when they were touched by the morning light.
Magdalena Guzmán, a spokeswoman for the Michoacan attorney general’s office, said authorities were “looking into several lines of investigation” in the deaths of the two men, including their connections to the butterfly sanctuary.
So far, authorities say, no evidence links his death to his work defending the monarchs.
Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador called Gonzalez’s death “very unfortunate and painful.”
The cause of Romero’s death is also unclear. Many here doubt the crimes will ever be solved.
According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, 154,557 people were killed in Mexico between 2010 and 2016. There were convictions in fewer than 6 percent of those cases.
“All of these losses are horrible,” said Gloria Tavera, the regional director for the commission of national protected areas. “All of these people are important.”
“The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”
― Ernest Hemingway
Outpouring of Grief After Missing Mexican Monarch Butterfly Defender Homero Gómez González Found Dead
Human rights advocates and the conservationist's family raised concerns about threats from the illegal logging industry and organized crime.
By Jessica Corbett - 30. Jauary 2020
Two weeks after Mexican conservationist Homero Gómez González was reported missing, authorities found his body in a well Wednesday. (Photo: Mexico News Daily)
Mexican conservationist Homero Gómez González was found dead Wednesday, about two weeks after he was reported missing, provoking a wave sorrow from allies and advocates worldwide as they honored his work running a butterfly sanctuary in the state of Michoacán.
"Authorities found Gómez González's body floating in a well in the community of El Soldado de Ocampo, not far from the butterfly sanctuary," according to the Washington Post. "Authorities told local media outlets that his body did not show any obvious signs of violence. But Gómez González's friends didn't have any details."
Human rights advocates have expressed fears that Gómez González may have been targeted because of his activism by those involved in the local illegal logging industry, and the 50-year-old butterfly defender's family told the media that he had received threats from a criminal organization.
Gómez González was reported missing by his family on Jan. 14, a day after he attended a meeting in the village of El Soldado. BBC News notedThursday that "more than 200 volunteers had joined the search for the environmentalist and, last week, the entire police forces of Ocampo and neighboring Angangueo were detained for questioning."
The conservationist often posted videos to Twitter from the El Rosario sanctuary, which is located in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Millions of monarch butterflies travel thousands of miles across North American to arrive each autumn in the mountainous region of Mexico, where they remain until spring. Local illegal logging has long threatened the butterflies.
A Global Witness report from last year named Mexico the world's sixth-deadliest country for eco-defenders, part of "a worrying global trend" of environmentalists risking their safety by facing off against "governments, companies, and criminal gangs [that] are routinely stealing land and trashing habitats in pursuit of profit."
Some responses to Gómez González's death on social media highlighted the rising threats to those involved in conservation work and environmental activism.
Actually doing the work of protecting the environment we live in often means threatening the most powerful and vicious people on the planet. It means putting your life, livelihood, and/or freedom on the line. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/29/world/mexico-butterfly-dead.html …
A shocking number of environmental activists have been killed lately, and this one is particularly painful. Homero Gómez did amazing work protecting & raising awareness around the incredible overwintering of monarch butterflies in Mexico https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/29/world/mexico-butterfly-dead.html …
This is gutting.
A reminder of the risk and danger faced by environmental activists all over the world. Many activists put their lives on the line to protect forests and habitats.
“It’s been a fight to maintain it,” he said. “And it hasn’t been easy.
"Illegal logging is one of the most lucrative environmental crimes. It's also one of the biggest drivers of killings of #environmentdefenders," tweeted Ali Hines, a land campaigner at Global Witness. "Homero Gómez González's death must be independently investigated."
Activist who fought to protect butterflies in Mexico found dead
Homero Gomez disappeared on January 13 and activists suspect his death could be related to illegal logging disputes.
Environmental activist Homero Gomez, who fought to protect the famed monarch butterfly has been found dead in Mexico's western state of Michoacan, a local authority said on Wednesday, two weeks after he disappeared.
It was not immediately clear how Gomez had died but his disappearance sparked an outcry in an increasingly violent country where activists are routinely threatened, harmed or even killed as a result of their work.
The Human Rights State Commission of Michoacan reported his disappearance on January 13 when commission official Mayte Cardona told Reuters news agency: "He was probably hurting the interests of people illegally logging in the area".
Michoacan's attorney general confirmed Gomez's death.
One source at the state attorney's office, who declined to be named, told Reuters the cause of death had not been determined but that an initial review had found no signs of torture.
Activists said his death could be related to disputes over illegal logging, water or income from visitors' fees.
Homero Aridjis, an environmentalist and poet who is a longtime defender of the butterfly reserve, called the death of Gomez "worrisome."
"If they can kidnap and kill the people who work for the reserves, who is going to defend the environment in Mexico?" Aridjis said.
Urging the protection of their habitat, the reserve El Rosario Ocampo Michoacan, Gomez became best known among Mexicans for posting mesmerising videos and photos of the orange and black butterflies on social media.
Millions of these butterflies make a 2,000 mile (3,220 kilometre) journey each year from Canada to spend winter in central Mexico's warmer weather. However, the insects are facing new challenges linked to extreme weather and changing habitat.
Michoacan state is home to the country's largest monarch butterfly reserve, a World Heritage Site, as well as many rival drug gangs who battle to control smuggling routes through often-arid terrain to the Pacific and the interior of the country.
The butterflies need healthy tree cover to protect them from rain and cold weather.
Mexico has clamped down on illegal logging, which was once a significant threat to the reserves, but which has fallen to about one-third of last year's level. But there have been reports of increased "salvage" logging of supposedly sick trees.
Disputes over water from mountain springs have also occurred in the region and avocado planters have long coveted the area, which has near-ideal growing conditions for the valuable fruit.
Mexican activist who fought to protect monarch butterflies found dead
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Environmental activist Homero Gomez, who fought to protect the famed monarch butterfly, has been found dead in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, a local authority said, two weeks after he disappeared.
It was not immediately clear how Gomez had died though his disappearance sparked an outcry in an increasingly violent country where activists are routinely threatened, harmed or even killed as a result of their work.
The Human Rights State Commission of Michoacan had reported his disappearance on Jan. 13 and commission official Mayte Cardona had told Reuters “he was probably hurting the interests of people illegally logging in the area”.
Michoacan’s attorney general confirmed his death. One source at the state attorney’s office, who declined to be named, told Reuters the cause of death had not been determined but that an initial review had found no signs of torture.
Urging the protection of their habitat, the reserve El Rosario Ocampo Michoacan, Gomez became best known among Mexicans for posting mesmerizing videos and photos of the orange and black butterflies on social media.
Millions of these butterflies make a 2,000-mile (3,220-km)journey each year from Canada to winter in central Mexico’s warmer weather. However, the insects are facing new challenges linked to extreme weather and changing habitat.
Michoacan state is home to the country’s largest monarch butterfly reserve, a World Heritage Site, as well as many rival drug gangs who battle to control smuggling routes through often-arid terrain to the Pacific and the interior of the country.
Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher and Lizbeth Diaz; Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Editing by Sandra Maler
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
The deaths of two Mexican activists are tragic, and a huge loss to us all
By Eric Holst - 06. February 2020
Conservationists across the world learned with horror this week that two of our Mexican colleagues were found dead near the El Rosario monarch butterfly sanctuary in Michoacán, Mexico.
The two men — Homero Gómez González and Raúl Hernández Romero — dedicated their lives to protecting the monarch, which has become an international symbol of hope and resilience.
Gómez González was the manager of the El Rosario reserve, a former logger who became one of the most prominent advocates for protection of the oyamel fir forests that monarchs visit each winter after the long migration from the U.S. and Canada.
Hernández Romero served as a guide in the butterfly sanctuary, one of many local residents who provided expert testimony to the reserve’s visitors about the unique life cycle of the monarch.
I am devastated by this loss. And I take it personally, because as these two men have been working to preserve the monarch’s only remaining and vital overwintering habitat in Mexico, I’ve been working alongside fellow conservationists, farmers and ranchers to protect and restore the monarch’s habitat on the northern side of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Never did I imagine protecting butterflies would be life threatening.
The loss of Gómez González and Hernández Romero is a great loss, not only to their grieving families, to whom we offer our sincerest condolences, but to the world — to all wildlife defenders who put their lives on the line, and to those of us who have experienced and treasure the awe, wonder and magic of the monarch.
As local law enforcement investigates the deaths, conservation groups in Mexico and internationally are uniting to call for an end to the violence against wildlife defenders worldwide.
Gómez González and Hernández Romero are not the only conservationists that have given their lives for their work. Senseless violence against environmental leaders continues in other parts of the world, including in the Amazon where the death toll of forest defenders is in the thousands.
This kind of violence is truly deplorable, for the human loss as well as the cost to precious ecosystems from the Amazon rainforest to Mexico’s oyamel fir forest. These ecosystems serve as some of the world’s last remaining ecological treasures — rich in biodiversity and spurring vibrant tourist economies.
I was fortunate to visit the El Rosario biosphere reserve last winter and witness firsthand the passion of local guides as they described the globally unique phenomenon of the monarch migration. The visit reinforced for me that monarch conservation is a true North American collaboration, providing a model for how the U.S., Canada and Mexico can work together to solve conservation and other problems.
As I mourn the loss of these two Mexican conservation heroes, my thoughts are with their families and the Mexican conservation community. My colleagues and I stand ready to support efforts to bring an end to this horror — in Mexico and beyond — and to ensure that the world’s environmental protectors are themselves protected.
I’ll also take solace in the legacy that these two activists are leaving Mexico and the world, knowing that their life’s work will be carried on by others, and that monarch butterflies will continue to return to El Rosario to visit Gómez González and Hernández Romero at their place of rest for generations to come.