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Isidro Baldenegro Lopez: Second Goldman Prize Winner Murdered in a Year

Less than a year after fellow Goldman Environmental Prize winner Bertha Caceres was murdered, Isidro Baldenegro Lopez was slain in Mexico.
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Indigenous Tarahumara leader Isidro Baldenegro Lopez of Mexico was murdered on January 15 as a result of defending the forests of his region in the northern Sierra Madre Mountains, making him the second Indigenous winner of a Goldman Environmental Prize killed in the last year.

Less than a year after the murder of Lenca leader Bertha Caceres of Honduras in March, Baldenegro Lopez was shot six times at his uncle's home in Coloradas de la Virgen, Chihuahua. He had just returned to his hometown after being in hiding due to death threats against him and his family.

Caceres won the prestigious Goldman Prize in 2015 and Baldenegro Lopez had won the same prize in 2005 for his lifetime of work defending forests and creating a non-violent grassroots resistance movement dedicated to protection and advocacy.

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Baldenegro Lopez first garnered national and international support for his work in 1993 and in subsequent years he organized sit-ins, highway blockades and other demonstrations. His efforts helped cause a temporary suspension of logging activities by the Mexican government and then a special court order in 2003 that outlawed logging in the area.

Following the 2003 actions, however, Baldenegro Lopez was imprisoned on what would later prove to be false charges of arms and drug possession. His arrest generated international solidarity from important NGOs, and Amnesty International declared Baldenegro Lopez a prisoner of conscience. Due to national and international pressure he was released in June 2004 after serving 15 months in prison. Not long after his release he and his supporters won two more government-ordered logging suspensions. Baldenegro Lopez then established an environmental justice organization.

Susan R. Gelman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, said: “Isidro Baldenegro’s relentless work organizing peaceful protests against illegal logging in the Sierra Madre mountains helped protect the forests, lands and rights of his people. He was a fearless leader and a source of inspiration to so many people fighting to protect our environment and Indigenous Peoples … Unfortunately, too many governments are failing to create safe spaces where people can voice their dissent and organize movements free of persecution and violent attacks.

“We call on the authorities to bring the perpetrators of this senseless violence to justice, and ask the international community, which rallied to Isidro’s defense during his imprisonment in 2003, to come together once again to honor and protect his legacy.”

On January 19, a Mexican prosecutor announced that the murderer of the award-winning Indigenous activist had been detained and that he is a member of a criminal gang involved with the drug trade and illegal logging operations.

According to the press statement, Attorney General Cesar Augusto Peniche asserted that the presumed killer of Isidro Baldenegro Lopez has been identified only as Romeo R.M. and that they are investigating the motives for the crime. Witnesses have claimed that the murderer is connected to a group that has killed indigenous forest defenders.