By Tilly Shields
THE JUDGE KNOWS the law, knows politics and knows the difference," said lawyer Fred Dilley, explaining how Yaqui activist Rodney Coronado was granted bail on December 9 in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Coronado, 28, had been unceremoniously snatched up by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents on Tucson's Pascua Yaqui reservation in September.
Charged with torching a Michigan State University research facility and releasing 300 minks in 1992, Coronado was denied bail in Tucson.
Extradited to Michigan on a U.S. Marshal aircraft, Coronado says he zigzagged all over the western half of the country once he was taken from Tucson.
"Here we were--106 people, all chained together in a 727," Coronado says cheerfully.
Off-loaded and taken to the Newaygo County Jail in White Cloud, Michigan, he was placed in solitary confinement for the month-and-a-half it took Dilley to secure his release on bail, during a hearing that lasted a day and a half.
The U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI and BATF didn't produce enough evidence to convince U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Enslen that Coronado was such a flight risk or a threat to the community that he should be denied bail, Dilley said.
Media interviews in which Coronado espoused his views on animal rights, the environment and indigenous people were plentiful, but he said nothing about his alleged role in the MSU break-in.
Enslen ruled the evidence showed "a laboratory had burned down and that I was a political activist, but it didn't show how the two were connected," Coronado says.
His connections to the local community led the judge to release Coronado to the custody of Kathy and Anselmo Valencia, Yaqui vice-chair and spiritual leader.
Coronado's family posted $50,000 cash and a $600,000 equity bail secured by property belonging to seven relatives. Among other conditions, he may not attend any animal rights rallies or set foot on college or university campuses.
A curfew dictates he return to the Valencia house by 6 p.m. A telephone monitoring system sits by Coronado's bed. The phone rings about four times nightly, and operating much like a fax machine, the device photographs him and transmits his picture back to Alexandria, Virginia.
The federal government selected Coronado for harassment, he believes, because he was one of the few people speaking out in defense of "illegal direct action" to aid the plight of animals. Because he did not have the backing of mainstream animal rights groups, he was "one small individual and too easy a target," Coronado says.
Coronado has taken his own share of direct action. At age 19, for example, he sank two unoccupied, Icelandic whaling ships, and today he continues to strongly denounce environmental devastation and the way society treats animals.
"We must not fall into the trap of believing that people who rescue animals from laboratories are terrorists and that people who spike trees are extremists," he says. "The real terrorists are the people who are destroying the sacred places on this earth and pushing animals to the brink of extinction. Those are the crimes taking place every day."
Coronado is sanguine about his trial, which is scheduled for late April. He says he's innocent and feels confident he'll be exonerated.
He says he'll continue to work with the Yaqui youth and prepare traditional ceremonies such as the sun dance. Because many reservation youths are threatened by gangs and violence, he believes the dance will empower them.
After his release, Coronado says he plans to link up with activists from his past and continue working for social justice, the environment, indigenous people and animal rights.
"I'll work with anybody who believes everything in nature has a right to exist," he says.
To stay current on Coronado's legal maneuverings, call the Rod Coronado Hotline, 322-9819.
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