Semarnat, Underneath the Carapace

Among the dead on the beaches of Guerrero between last September and January of this year were two young teaching assistants from the Veterinary and Zoological Schools of UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico) and more than 500 Laud and Golfina turtles. The former were probably murdered while trying to protect the latter.

Marco Antonio Baldillo and Martha Lidia Diaz Nunez came to Playa Michigan, in Tecpan de Galeana, to join a group of 100 volunteers who were trying to stop the human plundering of the turtles that nest on the Pacific beaches. When their colleagues left on September, the two lovers decided to stay for one more day, but they disappeared; that is until the decomposed body of Marco Antonio appeared September 18 on the beach at Pez Vela in the municipality of San Jeronimo. According to his father, Jose Baldillo Camacho, ” the form of death does not indicate drowning, but rather that he was hit on the head, moved and thrown into the ocean. Unconscious or dead I don’t know.” Of Martha Lidia nothing is known. The parents, who were trying to find out her fate in Guerrero, learnt that they had been warned of the risk they were running at the hands of the turtle dealers (also said to be drug dealers). Their efforts were fruitless and, when presented on TV, only earned them threatening phone calls. The authorities gave no indication of looking for those responsible for the double homicide, another example of the prevalent phenomenon in Mexico known as “being murdered without a murderer”.

A few days ago this newspaper published pictures of 500 Laud and Golfina turtles slaughtered by blows from machetes and clubs (also on the head) on the beach of San Valentin, in Petatlan, Guerrero. The Laud turtle, three meters in length, two in width and weighing about 900 kilos, is one of the oldest creatures in the world and the largest marine turtle in existence. For thousands of years it has traversed the Pacific, the Indian and the Atlantic oceans, and in Mexico it is found on the coasts of Michoacan, Guerrero and Oaxaca. Through the use of long lines (between 64 and 97 kilometers long with thousands of hooks dangling vertically to catch dolphins, whales, vaquitas (a tiny dolphin), dolphins, and marine turtles), and drift nets the Laud is also seriously threatened with extinction. Getting hooked or entangled in the lines and nets, it drowns struggling to get free. In flagrant breach of the law, turtles are killed on the beaches for the sale of their meat. Another cause is the plundering of nests of those species that lay their eggs on Mexican and Central American beaches, since an ignorant population considers the eggs an aphrodisiac, and they are consumed as snacks in bars, markets and cafes. At the same time, nesting areas are being destroyed by urban, industrial and tourist developments. How many turtles will have nowhere to nest or feed if FONATUR has its way with its ecocidal ESCALERA NAUTICA project in Baja california and the Sea of Cortez? According to biologist Laura Sarti, there were 75,000 adult Lauds on the Pacific Coast of Mexico at the beginning of the eighties (115,000 worldwide), but last season it was estimated that there were less than 500. From a scarce population we can now discount those slaughtered and we are left with very few.

All indications suggest that those responsible for the slaughter were Los Nejos. This criminal gang terrorizes the region with the approval and complicity of the authorities, and may have been involved in the murder of the two teaching assistants, whose names the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) is shy about uttering. Did they ever exist?

In May 1990, after an international campaign led by El Grupo de Los Cien (The Committee of One Hundred), Mexico ordered a total ban on the killing and commercialization of marine turtles. But the Prosecutor for Ecological Protection in Guerrero behaved as if the decree of prohibition had never existed, and had the gall to justify the massacre by saying, “no culture exists among the people for the preservation of animal species”, and the PRD (Partido de La Revoluccion Democratica) Mayor of Petatlan admitted that much of the beach is an ungovernable area. If, as says Diana Ponce of PROFEPA, there are 22 places at high risk, why are not the necessary forces mobilized and the full weight of the law brought to bear upon the criminals? Why does the government not close the beaches at night to control the egg thieves? Why plead a shortage of personnel as an excuse for failing to enforce environmental law? Could not some of the federal budget being spent on media, image and the wasteful, unnecessary summits be diverted to PROFEPA, so the States could have enough inspectors, thereby ensuring that our natural heritage outlast the plunderers?

Until now the policy of SEMARNAT has been to bury their head under the shell, or rather, not wanting to see what is going on around them. They only react when pressured by the media, as if the officials were just a few more citizens surprised by the news and then, with an air of innocence, producing the statistics that exist on the nesting sites. Every year the looting of the beaches of Oaxaca is condemned, and the illegal sale of eggs occurs in the market at Juchitan, where eating the “Grandmother of Life” is part of a tradition. But nobody does anything.

When Geogita Ruiz, director of Wildlife, was the PROFEPA commissioner in Oaxaca during the PRI government of Diodoro Carrasco she was unable to act against those who plundered a million eggs and slaughtered thousands of turtles on the beach at Escobilla (the most important one for the Golfina turtle), after the marines who had been protecting the beach were moved to Bahias de Huatulco following the EP (Ejercito Popular Revolucionario) attacks on August 28. In October of that year 526,000 eggs from Morro Ayuta were confiscated, but after it disappeared from the news, the turtle traffickers went back to their old ways. Now, this time, what is PROFEPA going to do about the organized gangs operating in the state? Will they seek cooperation from Governor Jose Murat to stop the criminals?

As for the boot manufacturers in Leon, Guanajuato, the state of the current President of the Republic – who should be reminded that a horseman is defined by the boots he wears – they should held responsible for being purchasers of turtle flippers. Years ago I wrote how the traffickers would cut off the flippers and throw the turtles back in the water. They being unable to swim, would be attacked by the sharks or suffer a slow death at the bottom of the ocean.

Will restaurants on the Pacific coast and in Tepito be raided and the vendors of turtle eggs and meat be arrested while, at the same time, a national campaign is launched to teach people to abstain from killing one of the most ancient animals on Earth? The marine turtle has existed for about 100,000,000 years and in some myths is considered to be our grandmother. So, while we look for origins of life in space we annihilate them on our own planet.

The authorities know the marine turtle traffickers’ distribution networks, where they sell and who are their allies in corrupt governments. However, I am afraid that the murder of the young teaching assistants and the hideous massacre of the Laud and Golfina turtles on the Guerrero coast will go unpunished, and when the hullabaloo dies down, things will return to normal: the traffickers to their activities, local authorities to their corruption and the SEMARNAT officials to their desks, hiding their heads under the shell.

God created the animal, but Man created the beast