Orlando Jorge Mera, the guardian of the environment assassinated in the Dominican Republic
Orlando Jorge Mera in an image from May 18, 2022.
Orlando Jorge Mera in an image from May 18, 2022.Alexander Arias (AP)

Those who knew Orlando Jorge Mera, the Minister of the Environment assassinated in his office in Santo Domingo at the age of 55, define him as a noble, kind and energetic person whose pulse did not tremble when it came to enforcing the laws to protect the nature of the Dominican Republic. He also as someone calm and conciliatory, who did not fear conflict, but faced problems. That trait of his character was demonstrated until the end when on Monday morning he received Miguel Cruz in his office, a childhood friend with whom he studied and with whom he appears in numerous photographs distributed these days, but who ended up taking his life. multiple shots.

De Cruz, the 56-year-old man now detained and who fled after committing the crime to a church where he confessed to a priest that he had killed another man, is known to own two companies, the Miguel Gun Shop Armory and the Construction Company. Cruz de la Mota and Associates. Although the authorities have not yet reported on the possible causes of the murder, according to information published by the local media, the businessman had had to paralyze an operation to extract materials for his cement plant in a river in the Cibao region, in the north of the country, for not complying with environmental regulations. And that is what, now it is intuited, led him first to argue with his friend and then to shoot him with the weapon that he had hidden when entering the ministry headquarters and that, after confessing the crime, he handed over to the priest. This Tuesday, with the country in mourning and shocked by the event, many question the security flaws that allowed the attacker to enter the government building armed.

Environmental defenders, for their part, see in the murder one more example of the vulnerability of environmentalists in Latin America, which, according to the international organization Global Witness, is the most dangerous region in the world for those who protect nature. “If something like this can happen to someone like a minister, then what is left for us, who are more ordinary citizens, who deal with many of the same issues, people and interests,” asks Maximiliano Bello, from the Mission Blue organization.

An international expert in the protection of the oceans, Bello had been working with the minister for months on an environmental project that they planned to announce soon. “We were working on several fronts and he was very excited about everything we were doing. It was very close, ”he recalls in a telephone conversation with EL PAÍS. “He was super friendly, affable, interested in protecting the environment, with a lot of ambition, without resentment. It’s refreshing, when you’re working with high-level politicians, to go to a place where they’re pushing you to protect the ocean. He was convinced and what he wanted was: ‘Now, let’s do it,’ he adds.

“He was a very peaceful, conciliatory person, with enormous, superhuman patience, who always tried to do good, very committed and extremely hard-working. She had a very great commitment to the management, to her work and to the country above all, ”says Milagros De Camps, Vice Minister of International Cooperation at the Ministry of the Environment. Although his family and that of the minister were lifelong friends – De Camps’ father was Secretary of State for Jorge Mera’s father when he was president of the Dominican Republic – it was not until they began working together in the ministry, in August 2020, when the official really got to know the minister and saw him transform “from a politician in a tie” to a committed Environment Minister who enjoyed going out to work on the ground and defending nature. “He did not come from the environmental sector. However, as soon as he arrived he became very interested in the whole subject. He consulted us technicians to make decisions, ”recalls the deputy minister in statements to EL PAÍS. “I felt that he had found something that he was passionate about even though he didn’t come from that area.”

The coffin of Minister Orlando Jorge Mera is transferred outside the chapel of the National Palace of Santo Domingo after a mass in his honor on Tuesday.
The coffin of Minister Orlando Jorge Mera is transferred outside the chapel of the National Palace of Santo Domingo after a mass in his honor on Tuesday.ERIKA SANTELICES (AFP)

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A lover of sports, racing and beekeeping, Orlando Jorge Mera was a member of a family with a long political tradition in the Dominican Republic. Son of former president Jorge Blanco, who governed the country between 1982 and 1986, his widow is the ambassador of the Dominican Republic in Brazil; his sister, deputy minister of Innovation, Transparency and Citizen Attention; and one of his sons, deputy. Born in Santiago de los Caballeros and a lawyer by profession, Jorge Mera was one of the founders of the Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM) and presided over the Dominican Institute of Telecommunications between 2000 and 2004. In his multifaceted career he was also a professor and producer and presenter of a television program, where he recently interviewed the Spanish politician José Bono, as can be seen in one of his latest messages posted on the social network Twitter.

In August 2020, he was appointed Minister of the Environment by President Luis Abinader and began what, without knowing it, would be his last mission. According to Bello, the figure of Jorge Mera was widely respected both in his country and among his peers in the region. But if something defined his work, it is that he did not give his arm to twist before anyone. “If someone was breaking the law, he was doing everything he could to make it so. He started an innumerable number of processes, he took a lot of people to jail for not complying with the norm and he had a very clear position regarding that which I imagine generated a lot of rejection in some of the people who were not complying “, Add.

Deputy Minister De Camps assures that, since she was appointed Environment Minister, she had brought more than 2,000 people and companies to justice for not complying with environmental laws, which put her in front of powerful interests. However, neither she nor the environmentalist Bello perceived that he was afraid. “He was not afraid. He always said that with dialogue everything is resolved and that he acted in accordance with the law. In fact, as a lawyer, that’s what he told us on the first day: ‘We are going to uphold the law.’ And the truth is that we have a committed minister for the first time in a long time,” says the deputy minister, recalling that Jorge Mera moved around without any type of personal security. “He was a very simple person and he thought well of everyone. He was a person with a very noble and good heart, who thought the best of everyone, ”she adds.

This Tuesday, at a mass celebrated in the San Rafael Chapel of the National Palace in honor of the late minister, President Luis Abinader reaffirmed that idea: “The changes that have taken place in recent years entail many challenges and dangers that Orlando has never faced. feared him.” While the country has decreed three days of mourning in honor of the minister and the family is preparing to say goodbye to Orlando Jorge Mera, his colleagues are already thinking of continuing his legacy as the best tribute to his former boss. “A large part of his team are young coaches with incredible ability. He was a person who trusted his technical team a lot, in the youth that gave young people a space to carve out their own space within public service and the fight for the environment. We are going to miss him a lot”, says De Camps.

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