District Attorney Antonio Gagliardo Loor for the Provinces of Guayas and Galapagos today issued an indictment against Mayor Pablo Gordillo Gil of Villamil on the island of Isabela in the Galapagos.
Mayor Pablo Gordillo Gil (in light colored shirt) asking to shut off camera
The arrest order came after an investigation by Sea Shepherd Galapagos Director Sean O'Hearn-Gimenez that revealed the destruction of mangrove trees near the town of Villamil.
The mayor of Villamil cut down the trees to build a dock and a parking lot for eco-tourism, and then completely destroyed the surrounding wetlands by refilling it with sand and volcanic debris.
The mayor was confronted while he was cutting down the trees. When he was told that he was committing an environmental crime, the mayor replied arrogantly that, "I could not give two shits. You're going to have to throw me in jail if you don't like it." A concerned citizen named Henry Segovia documented the destruction of the trees and made it available to the media and to Sea Shepherd. Sea Shepherd then invited District Attorney Jorge Blum Carcelen to accompany O'Hearn-Gimenez to Isabela to conduct a forensic investigation of the crime scene.
Numerous 80-90-year-old mangroves destroyed
District Attorney Carcelen was replaced a few weeks later by new District Attorney Antonio Loor. O'Hearn-Gimenez had a meeting with the Loor in Guayaquil in order to discuss this important case with the new district attorney and to reiterate the importance of this case to the future of the Galapagos Islands. Subsequently, Loor proceeded with the investigation that has resulted in him officially ordering the arrest of Mayor Gil.
Mayor Gil has also been involved with the illegal breeding of dogs on Isabela. The Special Law for the Galapagos prohibits dogs from being on the island. In total, there are five legal cases pending against the mayor.
Because the indictment can take three days before it can be officially acted upon, Mayor Gil has fled Isabela for the island of Baltra where he is trying to board a flight for Guayaquil on the mainland. Sea Shepherd is monitoring his movements but once he reaches the mainland, he will be able to elude arrest.
The good news is that he will not be able to return to the Galapagos for as long as there is an arrest order out for him. It is suspected that he will be working to rally political support on the mainland to overturn the indictment. Mayor Gil is apparently very well connected and his plans to develop Isabela for eco-tourism are attracting investors despite the illegalities involved in destroying habitat for eco-tourism enhancement.
According to Galapagos National Park Director Raquel Molina, this indictment against the mayor is the first time that a high-ranking political official has been charged with an environmental crime in the Galapagos.
Henry Segovia is now being persecuted by the Ecuadorian Navy for filming and exposing the illegal activities of the mayor. The Navy has ordered Henry to shut down his kiosk catering to tourists, thereby putting him out of business.
There is a growing illegal market in eco-tourism. On March 11th, Molina and some of her rangers were physically attacked and beaten when they arrived at Millonaria Playa on Baltra to enforce the laws against an illegal tourist operation. The tour operator Roby Delgado said that he had permission from the Ecuadorian Navy and he then called the Navy. As Molina was seizing kayaks, illegal sport and net fishing gear, some twenty-five Naval personal arrived and attacked the rangers.
In response to the attack, the federal police arrested the Baltra port captain and some of his men. The Ecuadorian Minister of the Environment arrived to represent the National Park. The Ecuadorian Minister of Defense arrived to represent the Navy.
The Navy retaliated by charging Molina with failing to secure a zarpe (a clearance) allowing her to go to Baltra to make the arrests.
The situation in the Galapagos is that the National Park rangers must file a zarpe to obtain permission from the Port Authority (a division of the Ecuadorian Navy) whenever they want to go out on patrol. This means that the Port Authority always knows in advance where the rangers are heading. In the past, this has created a situation where information has leaked from within the Port Authority and allows the opportunity to cover-up or stop illegal activities taking place in the park.
This presents one of the greatest obstacles to protecting the Galapagos - the inability of the National Park to do its job because of impossible constraints placed upon the movement of rangers by the Ecuadorian Navy.
Sea Shepherd has retained legal council to press for the prosecution of the mayor of Vilamil and to defend the rights of Henry Segovia. Sea Shepherd is building a strong legal defense team for the Galapagos and incorporating legal expenses into our operating budget for protecting these Enchanted Isles.
Sea Shepherd is making a video record of the existing Mangrove stands in and near the communities of the islands as evidence to have in the event that any of the mangroves are destroyed. The video evidence will negate any development arguments that the trees were never there.
In addition to pressing the prosecution for action with the Mangroves, Sea Shepherd is working to see that prosecution proceeds against the men arrested recently for smuggling shark fins and sea cucumbers on the mainland. Also, Sea Shepherd is investigating the recent execution of eight Galapagos tortoises.
O'Hearn-Gimenez heads up the Sea Shepherd office in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. It is the headquarters for Sea Shepherd activities involving educational, legal, investigative, and patrolling operations in the Galapagos.
The Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat is currently anchored in Academy Bay in Puerto Ayora. On July 1st the ship's crew confiscated 30 miles of illegal longline in the marine reserve.
Click here to learn more about the destruction of the mangroves and our investigation!