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Fox Frees Environmental Activists - 2001-11-09

Mexican President Vicente Fox has freed two peasant environmental activists whose cause had gained international attention over the past two and a half years. The action comes only weeks after one of their attorneys was assassinated, focusing even more attention on the human rights situation in Mexico.

In a surprise announcement delivered at Los Pinos, the Mexican presidential residence, President Fox said he had followed the recommendation of a panel of legal experts he had asked to look into this case.

He said that he had used the legal powers available to the president of the Republic to free the two men, Rudolfo Montiel Flores and Teodoro Cabrera Garcia. He said his government, which came to power almost a year ago, had taken action on this case at the request of the United Nations and several international human rights organizations.

With this move, Mr. Fox said, his government has shown its commitment to the promotion and observance of human rights in Mexico. Mr. Montiel Flores and Mr. Cabrera Garcia have become known around the world as political prisoners. Both are also recognized as environmental activists and, while in prison, received the Goldman and Chico Mendes international environmental awards.

The release of the two activists from the west central state of Guerrero comes almost three weeks after the murder of Digna Ochoa, a prominent human rights attorney who had represented them at one point. That case is still under investigation and has placed international pressure on the Fox government to pursue the issue of human rights violations.

Both of the men freed by President Fox had been in prison since they were arrested on May second, 1999. They were later convicted of growing marijuana and illegal possession of firearms. Supporters of the two men, however, maintained that the real reason for their imprisonment was their involvement in an effort to stop illegal logging in the state of Guerrero.