The story of Homero Gómez González is unique: after being a tough opponent of the creation of the Reserva de la Biosphere Mariposa Monarca became one of the most enthusiastic promoters of the conservation of oyamel forests and promoter of the sustainable development of communities.
Therefore, when On January 13, 2020, Homer’s family reported his disappearance, the 260 ejidatarios of the Rosary organized to search for their companion. Two weeks later, on January 29, his body was found in an agricultural well. Homer, who was also an agronomist, was 50 years old. His death outraged his family, fellow ejidatarios and all who knew of his work as a defender of the oyamel forests and the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus).
Three days after Homer’s body was found, another death set off the alarm lights on the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. Raúl Hernández Romero – a tour guide in the ejido El Rosario who days earlier had been reported missing – was found dead with visible traces of violence.
Read: Find Lifeless Tour Guide From Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Michoacán
So far, the Michoacán State Prosecutor’s Office has not completed investigations into these deaths, but ejidatarios and environmentalists are concerned that the interests of clandestine fellers and avocados seek to control— as in other territories in Mexico — the forests that are part of the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve, emblem of environmental cooperation in North America.
The deaths of Gómez and Hernandez recall that Mexico is considered one of the most dangerous countries for environmental defenders. In 2019 organizations such as Amnesty International recorded the murder of 24 human rights defenders, most of them focused on environmental and territory issues.
Accept a Booking
The Reserva de la Biosphere Mariposa Monarca is located on the Neovolcanic axis, in a territory that covers areas of the State of Mexico and the east of Michoacán, in the center of the country.
In the forests within the Reserve—as well as in areas of the Toluca Nevado and Popocatépetl volcano—millions of monarch butterflies arrive every winter migrating from the Great Lakes of North America.
In 1976, Canadian zoologist Fred Urquhart reported the location of monarchs’ hibernation sites in the forests of Michoacán, places where, for generations, the region’s Otomian and Mazahua communities have witnessed the winter stay of these butterflies.
Read more: The unknowns about the death of Homero Gómez, the monarch butterfly advocate
Urquhart’s studies were the ones that promoted the creation of a protected area and years after a biosphere reserve, explain the researchers Alfonso de la Vega and Leticia Merino Pérez, in the Report Conservation and Community Rights: Lessons from Mesoamerica, edited by the Institute of Social Research of UNAM, in 2016.
The monarch butterfly travels 4,500 kilometers from temperate forests in the United States and Canada to hibernate in 22 colonies of the Mexican Neovolcanic Axis. The largest colonies are located in the Monarch Reserve, which identifies three large nesting sites protected as core areas.
Homero Gómez, 50, was an advocate for the oyamel forests and the monarch butterfly.
When the Mexican government imposed on the mountains of the east of Michoacán the creation of the reserve, Homero Gómez González was a staunch opponent of the initiative.
Like many of the region’s ejidatarios, Homer’s idea of development did not stray from the traditional forest rental that gives the forest to the industry in exchange for money.
It was not easy to conquer the will of a population that was considered to have been harmed by the presidential decrees (1980 and 2000) that shaped the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a protected area that now has 56,259 hectares.
Communities were prohibited from activities that for many decades had been their livelihood: felling, hunting and flowering.
Leadership, such as That of Homer Gómez, as well as the support of several institutions– including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Monarch Fund and the National Forestry Commission (Conafor) – allowed communities to find sustainable paths to live in the forest while conserving this ecosystem vital to the future of species such as the monarch butterfly.
Find out: Michoacán prosecutor’s office publishes necropsy of defender Homer Gómez, but does not clarify if he was killed
Homero Gómez, who was an agronomist by profession, was a traditional leader who defended the right of communities to exploit forests. The first negotiation the communities achieved was to be paid for the timber they were not going to take advantage of.
Then, when these programs expired, a payment scheme was generated on the entire surface of the core area of the protected area; that has been the centerpiece of the stability of the reserve in the last ten years, explains the consultant Rafael González Franco, who was hired by the Mexican government to establish arrangements with the communities.
Currently, in the ejido El Rosario – located in Ocampo, Michoacán, and where it is one of the largest hibernation sites of the monarch – the community lives from ecotourism, produces trout and performs sustainable management of pine and oyamel.
Communities defending the forest
In the region where the monarch butterfly is amember, communities survive amid the violence of the cartels that dispute Michoacán.
Unlike other areas of Michoacán state, such as the purépecha plateau, the villages of the Monarch region have managed to more successfully contain the changes in land use for avocado that already affect their borders, while clandestine forest logging activity has progressively become controlled by criminal drug-dealing gangs.
Many monarch residents defend with their own resources this valuable territory that underpins their lifestyle. Miguel Angel Cruz Domínguez, one of the ejidatarios who participated in the search for Homero Gómez, explains that the ejido El Rosario, another 58 ejidos, thirteen indigenous communities Mazahuas and Otomí, and 21 small properties integrated to the protection polygon perform work of protection and conservation of the forest.
«We have been planting many thousands of trees […] In addition, we do not allow any clandestine feller to enter, we have permanent guards in shifts of ten ejidatarios, no one goes to the sanctuary without us knowing,» Cruz Dominguez warns.
The commitment of these communities is to maintain the integrity of ecosystems so that they can access the resources of the Monarch Fund.
Rafael González Franco, a consultant in community organization who has worked for more than a decade in the area on behalf of the partners of the Monarch Fund, highlights the important role that women in the communities have played.
Women joined the discussion processes and pushed traditional leaders, such as Homero Gomez, to abandon the clientele relationship with the state and start worrying about the health of their forests.
«It was a complicated job but I can say that there was a strong commitment from many institutions» to convince the peasants that their future is in conservation, recalls González Franco.
News of the death hit the ejidatarios who in early January celebrated a greater arrival of monarch butterflies in their forests.
Every year since 2004, with the support of the WWF-Telcel Alliance, the management of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve monitors the forest area occupied by the hibernation colonies.
In addition, there is a comprehensive trinational monitoring system where the flows of swarms that descend to Mexico are also recorded. In the last 20 years, the trend in butterfly occupation monitoring has gone down. The ejidatario Miguel Angel Cruz argues, however, that between 2019 and 2020 the trend seems to reverse, which will have to confirm the new monitoring that is just under going.
Common demand: in-depth research
Miguel Angel Cruz Dominguez, like the other ejidatarios of the Rosary, hopes that «the authorities will shed light on Homer’s death».
Following the body’s discovery, on January 29, the Michoacán prosecutor’s office noted that there were no traces of violence and ensured that lines of inquiry will remain open on issues such as kidnapping, extortion and threats.
Find out: Arrest of three alleged criminal leaders unleashing blockades in Uruapan, Michoacán
The death of Homero Gómez also caused the outrage of environmentalists from Mexico and many parts of the world, as well as communiqués from various organizations and units, from the WWF to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, in addition to the condolences of President López Obrador, without specifically committing to the clarification of the matter, which is the responsibility of the Michoacan prosecutor.
On Thursday, January 30, 2020, the inhabitants of the ejido El Rosario accompanied the mortal remains of the ejidatario.
Homero Gómez’s Facebook page is overrun with esquelas, photographs where he is looked through the trees of oyamel and surrounded by butterflies, as well as bleak messages, among them, a request in change.org: do not buy «blood avocados», the «green gold» that destroys the Michoacan forests.
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