Campaigners Killed for Defending the Environment and Their Community Against Big Ag

Two brothers were killed by police as they joined a protest against a pig farming corporation’s environmental pollution in Veracruz, Mexico last month.

Residents and farmworkers from the community of San Antonio Limon had been blocking a road in protest against Granjas Carroll (Carroll Farms) which they state both pollutes the aquifer they need for clean drinking water and utilizes far too much of that water. The state’s security forces chased the demonstrators, beat them with batons, and opened fire, killing Alberto and Jorge Cortina Vázquez, aged 22 and 27. As shots rang out, others ran from the 400 police officers and tried to hide inside the houses of local residents.

Carroll Farms consists of 18 pig operations between Veracruz and Puebla, and states that it is “the main swine producer in Mexico”, farming 1.6 million pigs a year. The company is a partnership of two other corporations: Agroindustrias Unidas de México and Smithfield Foods from the US. The protests against the environmental and human health impacts of this company’s pig farms have been ongoing for several years, with no resolution in sight.

A protest against Carroll Farms

San Antonio Limon is not the only community in Mexico actively defending its water and community from the detrimental impacts of large pig farming interests. In Yucatan, several Mayan communities are campaigning against Kekén, including setting up camps and roadblocks in protest at the pollution of essential and sacred cenotes. Protestors there have also experienced violence, vandalism, and arrest by the authorities who continue to defend Big Ag.

Forest is destroyed to make way for pig farms and their polluting waste “lagoons” in Yucatan. Photo credit: Glass Wall Films.

In an interview last year, Dr. Francisco Bautista, who has studied land and pollution for 30 years, spoke to us about the impact of pig farms and the crackdown on those who oppose them. He told us: “For two years I have been saying: authorities, pay attention, pay attention, pay attention to the problem, because there are going to be deaths. There is already repression, there are already beatings, and what follows are the dead and it worries me. The dead are always the poor Indigenous people, poor people who say they are going to die anyway because they fight for their land.”

We asked Dr. Bautista why the authorities don’t protect those who oppose the degradation of their land and communities. He replied: “Local authorities are part of the problem unfortunately. In the communities, in the localities, even though there are governors with Mayan names, they get a bribe and the permits are signed. At the state level, I’m an advisor to the government and I tell them things and they ignore them over and over and over and over again. There is no willingness to solve the problem.”

Dr. Francisco Bautista. Photo credit: Glass Wall Films.

Pig farms are notoriously polluting. A documentary called The Smell of Money, which was released last year, exposed the water and air pollution caused by intensive pig farming in North Carolina, as well as the health impacts on local residents. The film revealed that those who spoke out suffered police harassment and intimidation

The road block at Carroll Farms and the huge polluting waste “lagoons” that are a hallmark of pig farms

Smithfield has a history of calling upon law enforcement to intimidate and persecute those who seek to hold it to account. When activists rescued two pigs from a Smithfield farm in protest at the company not ending its use of gestation crates as it had promised, they were chased across state lines by the FBI.

As the devastating impacts of Big Ag on animals, people, and the environment become increasingly impossible to ignore, so the backlash against those who speak out has worsened. At least 24 environmentalists and land rights activists were murdered, disappeared, or jailed in Mexico and Central America last year alone. Big Ag and mining corporations are at the heart of the violence. Global Witness listed the names of 177 people from around the world who were murdered in 2022 for defending the environment and the human life that depends on it.

NGOs in Mexico have united in condemnation of the violence at San Antonio Limon, and against the industry that causes great harm to the environment and to people. They write: “We remind the Mexican government of its international human rights obligations, such as the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (Escazú Agreement), which obliges it to provide and guarantee protection for environmental defenders. In this sense, it is important for the Mexican government to guarantee a safe and conducive environment for those promoting environmental protection, providing them with recognition and protection, including their right to life, personal integrity, freedom of opinion and expression, right to peaceful assembly and association, and right to free movement, and to take appropriate, effective, and timely measures to prevent, investigate, and punish attacks, threats, or intimidation that environmental human rights defenders may suffer.”

We at Generation Vegan support the demonstrators and all Earth- and animal-defenders who peacefully stand up to Big Ag and ensure the world sees the huge damage it does to the planet and to all those who share it.

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