Demands Grow for the Freedom of Saúl Rosales, Traditional Authority in Tlaxcala, Imprisoned for Defending the Forest

Cover image: Protest demanding the freedom of Saúl Rosales

One of the principal demands that emerged from the Fourth Assembly for Water and Life, which took place at the end of March, was the unconditional and immediate freedom of Raymundo Cahuantzi and Saúl Rosales. The two forest defenders have been accused of a homicide in the Nahua community of San Pedro Tlalcuapan, in the municipality of Santa Ana Chiautempan, in the state of Tlaxcala.

Saúl Rosales and Raymundo Cahuantzi have been involved in the defense of the Matlalcueyetl region, also known as “La Malinche,” organizing community assemblies, participating in reforestation efforts, and denouncing extractivist activities like illegal logging.

The forest defenders were detained on July 14, 2022. Following a year and a half in prison, on March 1, 2024, Raymundo Cahuantzi was acquitted of all charges and released. However, in that same hearing, Saúl Rosales was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The events leading to the political persecution took place on April 15, 2022, when a man was lynched in the community after having supposedly robbed a home.

Saúl is an authority in the community. His wife explains that Saúl unsuccessfully tried to stop the killing, but those who carried out the attack locked him up in the municipal building.

Raymundo, for his part, is a religious leader and a Tiaxca—a respected figure inside the community. In spite of not participating in the acts, he was detained when he went to the Tlaxcala Public Prosecutors Office to seek the release of Saúl.

On March 1, the court ordered the immediate freedom of Raymundo, when evidence was presented demonstrating that he had participated in religious activities in the community at the same time as the killing.

In the same hearing, the court found Saúl Rosales guilty for supposedly failing to protect the victim and not preventing the murder.

The individuals and organizations who participated in the Fourth Assembly for Water and Life, like the Colectivo por la defensa de la identidad y territorio de Tlaxcala (CODITET)—who were in charge of the organization and logistics of the assembly—and human rights organizations like Frontline Defenders, have demanded the freedom of Saul Rosales. They argue that the legal process is an act of criminalization against Saúl and Raymundo for their labor in defense of Matlalcueyetl.

Matlalcueyetl has been declared a national protected area harboring a great variety of plants, animals, and micro-organisms endemic to the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt (TMVB). It is also extremely important in the cosmovision of the people of Tlaxcala who live nearby. Furthermore, the area provides resources like charcoal, firewood, medicinal plants, edible mosses and mushrooms. The zone is also pivotal for maintaining the water cycle and the regulation of temperature.

In interviews with the Avispa team who attended the fourth assembly, members of CODITET explained that the area of Matlalcueyetl is being threatened by illegal logging, growing urbanization in Tlaxcala and Puebla, as well as by pollution and infestation, specifically by the bark beetle.

The organizing work in defense of territory has led to conflicts with municipal and state authorities who do not respect the decision of the Nahua communities to stop the exploitation of the resources of the area.

The sentence against Raúl was handed down in the context of his work in defense of territory, explained Raymundo Cahuantzi and Jacobo Rosales, the brother of Saúl Rosales, in an interview during the Fourth Assembly for Water and Life.

Avispa Midia (AM): Hi Raymundo, we are happy that you are here with us in freedom. Could you tell us more about why you were detained? What relation does your detention have with your organizing work in defense of the forest and land?

Raymundo Cahuantzi (RC): The crime of which we are accused was fabricated. I wasn’t even in the location of the acts on the day of the killing. I was participating in and organizing the procession because it was Good Friday

We’ve been organizing for a long time in defense of Malintzin, struggling against the bark beetle, and doing restoration work. When the infestation began, so did the organizing. Our organizing work for the health of the forest has caused friction with the government, because they’ve sought the intervention of private companies.

We believe that our imprisonment is punishment for this organizing work, for being active in the defense of this land, for participating, for organizing.

We were detained on July 14. Waking up on July 15, that is when the storm truly began, the political persecution against us.

It was very hard. The truth is we’ve suffered being isolated from our families and friends. That has been really difficult.

AM: What were the greatest obstacles in the process of obtaining your freedom?

RC: I was in prison from July 15, 2022 to March 8, 2024. It was physically, psychologically, and economically stressful. Being in prison changes your life, not just for you, but for everyone around you as well. Things changed drastically overnight.

We live day to day because we are campesinos. We didn’t have any savings. We had to learn to cope. The most difficult part was the hearings being continually postponed. We were also deceived by some lawyers. Everything was very difficult.

My direct family, my wife and children, my mother who is 88 years old, my siblings, they never abandoned me. Always, every visit, they were there.

I’m also grateful for my community because the truth is there is much love. I’ve always been loved. I am recognized as a Tiaxca in my community, someone who is well-respected, the compañero Saúl Rosales is too. We hope that soon his innocence is proven as well.

AM: We understand that everything was very hard, and you mention the support of your family and community, how was it that you obtained your freedom?

RC: With all the support, our collective has been able to expand and strengthen itself. Today in the National Assembly for Water and Life, I want to thank all the communities and collectives who have joined this cause. It is thanks to your support that I am free.

To all the people who supported with protests, we must continue united to soon be with our compañero Saúl Rosales. Everyone, god, and even the government, know that we are innocent.

I want to believe in divine justice and the laws of this country, so that the truth is uncovered. We did not do anything wrong. We are people who have been defending the land and water. We help our community. The truth must come to light.

In addition to our conversation with Raymundo, we also spoke with Jacob Rosales, brother of the political prisoner, Saúl Rosales. In the interview, Jacob talks about the difficulties that the imprisonment of his brother has generated for the family.

Avispa Midia (AM): Hi Jacob. How is your brother Saúl Rosales doing? Could you tell us more about his work in the community prior to his imprisonment?

Jacob Rosales (JR): My brother, in spite of being in prison, has been strong. Saúl has always been a hard worker, a fighter, and he is loved by his community.

At the moment the bark beetle infestation appeared in the forest, my brother, together with the Colectivo de Sanamiento y Restauración de la Malintzi Tlalcuapan, began to restore the area. As a result, this problem has arisen leading to his imprisonment. It seems there is a clear connection.

AM: What has been the response from authorities to the denunciations claiming Saúl is innocent?

JR: My brother has been in prison for a year and nine months. The Tlaxcala Public Prosecutor’s Office knows that there is no evidence against him. It’s the same as the case of the compañero Raymundo who has now been released. There is no evidence against Saúl.

The judges handling the case have argued that because he is a traditional authority, he is guilty. For helping his community, for caring for their forest, they’ve given him a sentence of 20 years in prison.

The only thing we demand is that the truth be known. Today we’ve taken account of the corruption in Tlaxcala. There is no justice or law.

AM: After a year and nine months in prison, what has been the most difficult for Saúl and his family?

JR: The case is complicated, for the family and friends of Saúl. I can say that I know my brother. He likes to help the family. He always likes to participate. Thus, its been really hard living through this.

AM: What’s next in Saul’s case after the conviction?

We will continue fighting to demonstrate the state’s injustice. Like Raymundo said, we know there are people behind us.

We will now go to the appellate court. We hope things go well there, and that we can achieve justice from this struggle. We hope this whole situation is brought before the law, and that soon he will be free.

AM: Lastly, how can other people join in the demand for the freedom of Saúl?

You can find us on Facebook at Justicia Tlalcuapan. We stream the protests when there are court hearings. We also ask everyone to share the information, to let people know that innocent people are paying a dear price for the simple act of defending their land.

We thank the communities and collectives who have accompanied us. We have seen the friendship. When I visit him, my brother has said that you realize who your friends are, and those who are truly with you, when you are in prison. We invite you all to keep demanding the freedom of Saúl.



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