Mourners bury bold defender of butterfly reserve in Mexico

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OCAMPO, Mexico — Hundreds of farmers and agricultural workers thronged the funeral of activist Homero Gomez Gonzalez in a homage to him that was like a tribute to the monarch butterfly he so staunchly defended.

The butterflies’ annual migration, threatened by logging, avocado farming and climate and environmental change, also represents a ray of hope and income for the impoverished, pine-clad mountains of Michoacan state.

Nobody worked harder than Gomez Gonzalez — whose body was found last week at the bottom of a holding pond with a head wound — to stop logging, reforest and bring tourists to the butterflies’ wintering grounds.

In an area where crime, construction work and wood cutting provide some of the only sources of income, Gomez Gonzalez provided a way out, ensuring income for the communal farmers who own the land in the butterfly reserve.

“Thanks to him many of you had work, or more work — those who sell food in the reserve, those who sell their handicrafts, those who bring their horses to carry visitors into the reserve,” Rev. Saul Saucedo said in the funeral homily Friday.

It may sound like low-wage jobs, but that tenuous economy keeps the pine and fir trees from being cut down and preserves the butterflies’ migration from the United States and Canada each year.

It also feeds the family of farmer Raul Garcia Gonzalez. “When there’s no work here, I go out and look for day labor jobs,” he said.

Like many of the communal land owners, he fears Gomez Gonzalez’s death could add to the already bad reputation that drug cartel violence has given to the state of Michoacan.

Autopsy results showed Gomez Gonzalez drowned in the holding pond after leaving a party Jan. 13, but they also showed he had a head wound.

There would have been no shortage of people for whom life would have been easier if Gomez Gonzalez wasn’t around.

While known as a friendly, big-hearted man who liked to pose for photographs surrounded by the swarms of black and orange butterflies that roost in trees here each winter, Gomez Gonzalez was a leader and a community activist — a dangerous profession in Mexico.

Global Witness based in London counted 15 killings of environmental activists in Mexico in 2017 and 14 in 2018.

Authorities say said an investigation into Gomez Gonzalez’ death is continuing.

Mark Stevenson is an Associated Press writer.

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