In loving memory of Alejandro Lopez Lopez
by Barbara Kastelein
Publication date: May 2009
At around 11.30 pm on April 14th, the glinting stars of the black mountain sky witnessed the sad loss of one of the country’s impassioned environmentalists, the much-loved Director of the Izta-Popo Zoquiapan National Park.
Alejandro López López was a popular and enthusiastic conservationist, caring for all aspects of the parklands around his cherished volcanoes – from the red-tailed eagles, to the construction of community stoves, putting a rapid end to forest fires, and listening carefully to the stories of community elders.
Tall, agile and with a cheery white beard and CONANP (National Commission for Protected Areas) cap, Alejandro was unstoppable. Under the shimmering gaze of Don Goyo’s peak – one nickname for Popcatépetl is Don Gregorio, shortened to Don Goyo — he would careen and bounce around the rugged mountain paths in one of the park’s distinctive trucks, decorated with an illustration of the teporingo rabbit (the furry little creature – ears short so it doesn’t lose heat at that altitude — that populates the grasslands high on the volcanoes), co-ordinating a hundred and one park and community activities on his radio.
He and his friendly young team would be replanting hundreds of thousands of pine trees, organizing hikers to bring down garbage from the mountains, expanding the tree nursery, devising environmental programs for school children, co-ordinating mountain rescue, improving an exhibition and information center at the Paso de Cortés, planning nature trails and sponsoring photography to publicize the intense beauty of the zone.
This does not begin to count his grueling political work as Area Director, fending off outside interests that would pollute and eat into Mexico’s precious natural resources, checking environmental impact statements, fighting for land ordinances to get legal approval on time, trying to prevent landfills, pushing for protection in consultation with experts from the University of Puebla, lobbying with communities, co-ordinating his team in the battle against illegal logging.
He would attend to scores of local complaints and needs, keeping a wary eye on regional policy, how it was unfolding and what written words meant when put into practice. And then he would charge back and forth to Mexico City to CONANP’s national head office to grapple as optimistically as he could with the usual melée of bonhomie and back-stabbing, lobbying, jostling, advising and sparring with his colleagues and superiors – who had voted him Director of the Year in 2007. It was on the way back from one of these frequent missions to DF that his vehicle crashed into an electricity pole.
Alejandro instigated an international accord with the Czech Republic, after a visit by that nation’s leader to the park in 2006, inspecting the parklands of the republic twice, sharing presentations and ideas and building plans for co-operation. He represented Mexico’s ecological initiatives and analysis on behalf of CONANP in a number of Latin American countries, including Brazil and Cuba.
Always prepared to walk the walk, he was committed to teamwork and clear communication at home. He would invest in training sessions and always participate democratically at all levels with his staff. He and his group at the CONANP office on Amecameca‘s Constitution Square led the way in demonstrating that the volcanoes Izta and Popo are a water factory, as well as providers of clean air for the whole teeming valley of Mexico, with 30 million people depending on these giants of nature for their survival.
In recent years they promoted the park’s beauty and education on this topic with a beautiful annual calendar, as well as leaflets and an appealing website.
Everyone in and around Amecameca knew Alejandro. Never one to be cooped for long in an office, or wearing a tie in meetings, he would just as likely be sporting an embroidered headband and attending ancient rites with the granizeros in one of the volcanoes’ caves or participating in local festivities, egging on his daughters in one of the conchero dances, buying local produce in the market, digging, directing, and disappearing up to the Paso de Cortés in a cloud of dust.
A champion of indigenous communities ever since he lived with Oaxaca’s Mazateca when bringing up his young family, Alejandro’s early career was in community radio, paving the way for his exceptional communication skills and winning the hearts of local people who otherwise would be distrustful of environmental initiatives and officialdom. His passion for human voices was reflected in his post as official town chronicler, and he is the author of the Estado de Mexico’s illustrated “monografía” of Amecameca. He was also a devoted family man, beamingly proud of his four adult children and adoring of his two grandchildren, Lucio and Darana.
Alejandro’s funeral was held in Amecameca on April 17th, two months after his birthday and exactly one week following Good Friday. His brother Raúl reports over 1,500 mourners were in attendance, from campesinos to blue-shirted CONANP officials. Local schools stopped activities so the children could come out into the street and applaud the cortege.
In the words of Alejandro’s dear friend Vicente: “The volcanoes Izta and Popo filled the horizon. We gathered around the tomb … prayers began and Alejandro’s mother broke the silence with her grief. The grave was filled with earth and his children threw rocks from the volcano inside, we all did. At that moment the shrill sirens of the mountain rescue vehicles sounded and it was hard to contain our tears.”
We recognize and mourn the unmistakable energy and appeal of a rebel, a maverick – a true eccentric — with his pack of xoloesquintles (Mexican hairless dogs – who Alex chatted to happily and were so well behaved they would not enter the house) at his simple and sunny home in Amecameca, flanked on the one side by calves, and the other by a field of wild flowers.
The tender memory of this ecologist’s passion for his work and tangible calidad humana will live on in those who loved him and his team; colleagues and friends have made a commitment to continue with his labors in environmental protection, around the volcanoes, in Mexico and worldwide.