Two so-called “butterfly guardians” who worked to protect the colourful insects’ habitat in Mexico have been found dead within a few days of each other, sparking suspicions about whether the two cases are linked.
Both men were involved with the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site where millions of monarchs gather each year after migrating south from the U.S. and Canada. The reserve is approximately 100 kilometres from Mexico City in a forested area that faces constant challenges from illegal loggers.
High-profile activist Homero Gomez Gonzalez was found at the bottom of a holding pond with a head wound on Jan. 29 in the municipality of Ocampo, authorities said at the time. Gomez Gonzalez was a high-profile crusader for butterfly habitats and had vocally opposed logging projects that threatened the insects’ migration areas.
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador described Gomez Gonzalez’s death as “regrettable” and “painful” following news of his demise.
Gomez Gonzalez had been missing since Jan. 13. Hundreds of farmers showed up to mourn him at his funeral on Jan. 31, where they praised him for helping them keep their jobs.
“He fought for his town, and that fills me with pride,” his 19-year-old son, Homero Gómez Valencia, said at the funeral. “A lot of the things we have are due to that struggle, which took many years. He fought against a thousand things.”
The victim’s brother, Amado Gomez, told The Associated Press that the death looked suspicious.
“Something strange is happening, because they’re finishing off all the activists, the people who are doing something for society,” he said.
Two days later, on Feb. 2, the body of Raul Hernandez Romeo was found, dead from what looked like murder. His body showed multiple bruises and he’d suffered a knife wound to the head, according to the Michoacan state prosecutors office. Hernandez Romeo was last seen leaving his home on Jan. 27.
Hernandez Romeo’s death is being investigated as a murder case. Officials say Gomez Gonzalez died of drowning, but they have not indicated when or how he suffered the head wound.
Authorities have not said whether the two cases are connected.
Both men worked tirelessly to protect the butterfly reserve, which occupies a large tract of forested land in the state of Michoacan. They were also activists — a dangerous calling to pursue in Mexico, where dozens of community leaders are killed each year in gang-related violence.