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Search for missing activists intensifies in western Mexico

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MEXICO CITY — Concern grew in Mexico on Thursday over the fate of two environmental and community activists who disappeared five days ago in a dangerous corner of western Mexico.

Farmers blocked roads on the border between the western Mexican states of Michoacan and Colima to protest the disappearance of lawyer Ricardo Lagunes and schoolteacher Antonio Díaz.

The government said on Thursday it had sent troops, the National Guard and aircraft to search for the couple, whose bullet-riddled vehicle was found Sunday on a road in the area, where warring drug cartels are assets.

“Currently, research is being carried out on land and in the air in the region,” the interior ministry said in a statement.

Activist Sergio Oceransky of the Yansa Foundation said farmers blocked roads in the area to demand that authorities find Lagunes and Díaz.

Both had been active in the fight against a huge iron ore mine in the town of Aquila. Locals have long complained that the massive open pit mine has caused pollution and drawn violence to the area, while providing little benefit to residents. The Aquila Mine did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The town of Aquila is located in the region of the western state of Michoacan, which has long been fought over by drug cartels. The two disappeared Sunday evening on the border between Michoacan and the neighboring state of Colima.

Díaz was a leader in the predominantly indigenous community of Aquila, while Lagunes had long been involved in defending communities in several states in land and development disputes.

In the past, the region’s rich iron ore deposits have attracted the attention of competing drug cartels, who have either extorted money from the mining community or directly engaged in the ore trade.

María de Jesús Ramírez Magallón, Lagunes’ wife, said in a statement that “abandonment, exclusion and inequality have kept our communities in poverty and made us vulnerable to the dynamics of violence and decadence. of our communities”.

“The goal of advocates like my husband and Professor Antonio was to change this reality, but often (government) institutions block this work, rather than helping,” she wrote.

A resident of Aquila, who fled the village after her husband and son were killed last year, described Díaz as “someone who helped us”.

The resident, who asked that her name not be used for security reasons, said the abductions took place just as community residents were about to elect representatives for talks with the mining and government.

Michoacan Governor Alfredo Ramírez said Wednesday that authorities in both states have organized searches.

“We hope to find these two people alive,” Ramírez said.

The UN human rights office called on the authorities to do more to protect the activists.

“The disappearance of these two (rights) defenders is a terrible and alarming thing,” said a statement by Guillermo Fernández-Maldonado, the Mexican representative of the UN human rights office.

He said one of the two had obtained government protection, “which did not prevent his disappearance”.

Michoacan has long been the scene of bloody turf battles between the Jalisco Cartel and the Viagras Cartel, as well as local gangs.

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