The Priest of the People and the Forest Father José Andrés Tamayo Cortez, 47, is a charismatic Catholic priest leading the struggle for environmental justice in Honduras. He directs the Environmental Movement of Olancho (MAO), a coalition of subsistence farmers and community and religious leaders who are defending their lands against uncontrolled commercial logging. Together they continue to exert heavy pressure on the Honduran government to reform its national forest policy. Fewer Trees, Less Water The Department of Olancho, Honduras's largest and most biologically diverse region, hosts a wide variety of forest eco-systems, including mountaintop cloud forests, rare old-growth pine forests and lowland tropical rainforests. Home to more than 500 unique types of birds and numerous endangered plant and animal species, these ecosystems are critical to preventing erosion, protecting the region's water sources and reducing flooding in the region. Unregulated logging has already taken more than half of Olancho's 12 million acres of forest. Erosion is widespread, water levels are dangerously low and natural springs have dried up completely. One community had to dig 120 wells before hitting water. According to local and international non-governmental organizations, powerful landowners, logging companies, drug traffickers and informal crime bosses control the lands. With almost no formal authority in the region, community members who have opposed logging have been threatened and murdered, and others have fled. Tamayo himself has been harassed and violently assaulted, and has had a bounty put on his life. Marching for Life Not willing to stay silent as he witnessed the effects of clear-cutting and water shortages, Tamayo mobilized local residents and drew the government's attention to Olancho's urgent environmental issues. In 2003, he led a regional campaign that stopped the development of a major highway that would have increased access to forests for new sawmills. Later that year, Tamayo led the "March for Life," a 3,000-person, 120-mile, weeklong march to the nation's capital. It brought the environmental debate to the national stage and inspired other rural communities to organize against illegal logging. One month later, the Honduran president agreed to meet with Tamayo. In recognition of his efforts, he was awarded the 2003 Honduras National Human Rights Award. In June 2004, more than 5,000 people joined a second "March for Life," drawing attention to alleged corruption in the government's National Forestry Agency. The March led to a government investigation, prompting the resignation of the agency's General Manager. Recognizing that the viability of these successes requires sustained pressure, Tamayo is reaching out to other isolated communities in Olancho and continues to strengthen his national campaign to ensure the protection of Olancho's forests for years to come. An Inspirational Leader Father Tamayo's resilience and peaceful efforts have led observers to compare him to Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and César Chávez. Undaunted by the violent backlash that his activism has unleashed, Father Tamayo has remained staunchly and selflessly committed to the nonviolent defense of the forests and the people of Honduras.
"Natural resources and life itself are human rights; therefore, to destroy God's creation is to attack human life; our last remaining option is to defend life with our own life."
Environmental Journalist Turned Environmental ActivistRead more »
Middle Name or Initials:
Environmental Journalist Turned Environmental Activist Stephanie Roth, 34, is a French and Swiss citizen and former researcher and editor at the London-based magazine, The Ecologist. Since 2002, Roth has been the driving force behind an international campaign to stop construction of Europe's largest open cast gold mine in Romania. Roth joined the anti-mining campaign after she was involved in a successful grassroots movement to stop development of a so-called "Dracula Theme Park" in Transylvania, a project that would have destroyed an ancient oak forest reserve next to a medieval citadel. History, Health and the Environment Hang in the Balance Rosia Montana, located in the Apuseni Mountains of West-Central Romania, is the country's oldest documented mining settlement. In 2000, the government granted rights to Canadian-based Gabriel Resources to develop a gold and silver mine in an around the small historic town. Under the plan, 2,000 people would be forced to relocate, 900 homes would be torn down and 10 centuries old churches destroyed. The company plans to use hazardous cyanide compounds to separate the gold and silver from the rock. The mine's waste rock then would form a 185 metre-high dam across the Corna valley, provoking relocation of the valley's residents. A hazardous cyanide storage pond, together with tons of waste laden with heavy metals, would cover as many as 600 hectares or nearly 1,500 acres. As a result, the nearby Aries River, the most important water resource in the region, is at serious risk of pollution, threatening the health and lives of 100,000 people. National and International Opposition Builds To prevent this wide-scale destruction, and despite repeated death threats, Roth has organized the first large-scale protests in Romania since 1989, when anti-government demonstrators overthrew the Ceausescu regime and the communist party. She has mobilized local residents and created a coalition of national non-governmental organizations, archaeological specialists, academics and clergy to fight the mining proposal. As a result of Roth's campaign, the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) withdrew support for the mining project in October 2002. For the first time, the IFC issued a statement expressing its grave social and environmental concerns. Romania's Accession into the European Union in Question The European Parliament sent a delegation to the site in October 2003 and again in December 2004. The project, found to be in clear breach of various EU directives, caused the European Parliament to adopt Article 41, in which it "expresses its deep concern that the Rosia Montana mine development poses a serious environmental threat to the whole region" and states that it will carefully monitor the project's development, both in terms of its conformity to EU environmental law and also how it relates to Romania's accession to the EU. Still, the mine proposal remains very much alive and currently is undergoing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
"Gabriel Resources and Newmont are modern-day vampires; who in the name of progress aim to bleed Rosia Montana to death. Their lust for gold has already given rise to flagrant and crying injustices. I refuse to accept this and I refuse to stay silent about this."
Submitted by chjeanbaptiste05 on Mon, 2006-03-06 14:11
A Persistent Leader
Agronomist Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, 58, founded the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) in 1973 to teach the people of Haiti the principles of sustainable agriculture. It has become one of the most effective environmental peasant movements in Haitian history, successfully fostering economic development, environmental protection and individual survival. Jean-Baptiste carries out his work despite Haiti's extremely volatile political climate. He has survived several assassination attempts. Death threats forced him into exile from 1993 to 1994. Read more »
A Persistent Leader Agronomist Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, 58, founded the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) in 1973 to teach the people of Haiti the principles of sustainable agriculture. It has become one of the most effective environmental peasant movements in Haitian history, successfully fostering economic development, environmental protection and individual survival. Jean-Baptiste carries out his work despite Haiti's extremely volatile political climate. He has survived several assassination attempts. Death threats forced him into exile from 1993 to 1994. A Flood of Challenges in a Barren Landscape Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere; 80 percent of the people live in abject poverty, 53 percent are illiterate and two-thirds of the population relies on a shrinking number of subsistence farm plots for food. Once covered with lush tropical forest, Haiti today is massively deforested, with trees covering only two percent of the land. Floods and landslides, exacerbated by this deforestation, wash down Haiti's mountains and destroy everything in their path. (In September 2004, tropical storm Jeanne killed an estimated 3000 people.) As the soil erodes, once-fertile land becomes barren, leading to food shortages. Desperate to earn a living, many rural families resort to felling the few remaining trees to sell as charcoal, their immediate survival needs outweighing their interest in the country's long-term environmental health. A Growing Union Jean-Baptiste has long understood that Haiti's future and its people's economic well-being depend on protecting the country's rugged and sacred mountains and preserving its fertile topsoil. For more than 30 years, Jean-Baptiste has toiled alongside his fellow peasants to reach these goals. Building on Haiti's traditional community working groups, or gwoupman, the MPP engages more than 60,000 community members in sustainable agriculture, including 20,000 women and 10,000 youth. Jean-Baptiste and his colleagues train farmers to use water-saving drip irrigation systems, natural fertilizers and pesticides in place of toxic commercial products, and to build low-cost erosion-prevention structures. The resulting increase in long-term crop yields has significantly decreased dependence on imported foods, reduced malnutrition rates in children, protected vital water supplies and helped decrease overall poverty levels in central Haiti. One Tree at a Time To Jean-Baptiste and the MPP, every tree counts. Together MPP members have planted more than 20 million fruit and forest trees to help stabilize Haiti's fragile soil and provide access to more food sources. Over the years, many have argued that planting these trees is pointless given that so many will be cut down for fuel. Jean-Baptiste remains undeterred; his dream is to foster a green Haiti for the next generation. His strategy includes increasing access to alternative fuel sources. This has led to the launch of a solar power initiative that includes workshops on building solar-powered battery chargers and establishing a small manufacturing facility for solar products. What's Next With the most recent change of political leadership, Jean-Baptiste chairs the country's new council on peasant issues. Among the pressing agenda items is addressing Haiti's deforestation crisis.
"I devote my life to building a green Haiti, a Haiti that offers an abundance of life to all of its children."
In the Congo's Rainforests, from Passion to ProtectionRead more »
Middle Name or Initials:
Democratic Republic of Congo
In the Congo's Rainforests, from Passion to Protection In his youth, Corneille Ewango, 41, helped his uncle who was an elephant poacher by collecting ivory tusks. As he grew older and his knowledge of the forest also grew, he embraced ecology and conservation. His passion became botany. As a staff member of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature and the Wildlife Conservation Society's Democratic Republic of Congo program, he was responsible for the Okapi Faunal Reserve's botany program from 1996 to 2003. Ewango helped lead the effort to protect and preserve the Okapi Reserve through nearly a decade of civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Ewango is now a graduate student at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Found Nowhere Else on Earth The rainforest of the DRC represents approximately 50% of Africa's tropical moist forests and one-eighth of all tropical rainforests in the world. Unparalleled natural assets lie in the Ituri Forest, where the Okapi Reserve was created in 1992. The reserve covers more than three million acres, and houses 13 primate species, elephants, and animals found nowhere else on Earth, including the okapi, a forest giraffe. It also is home to the Mbuti people, commonly known as Pygmies, who have an extensive knowledge of the Ituri Forest. The survival of the reserve and the Mbuti are inextricably linked. Amidst political corruption, economic instability and a civil war that lasted from 1996 to 2002, Ewango applied scientific fact-finding and grassroots mobilization to protect the reserve. For example, by marking and measuring large research plots, he uncovered 600 tree species and 270 species of lianas (tropical vine plants). In the United States and Canada combined, there are 700 species of trees. When Others Fled, He Stayed Commonplace during the war was the illegal land grab of timber and gold, diamonds, and coltan, a mineral used in cellular phone technology. Chaos spread and, by 2001, most of the Okapi Reserve's senior staff had fled. Ewango stayed, bolstered by 30 junior reserve staff and 1,500 local residents who rallied around him. Courageously, he helped rebuild the confidence of those who had witnessed mass murder and rape, and together they worked to protect the reserve during the region's worst fighting. Ewango also ensured the survival of the 14 okapi living at the reserve headquarters' zoo. Treasures Saved In the very forest that Ewango sought to protect, he hid the reserve's herbarium collection, computers, research and data on 380,000 trees. To save his own life, he also hid himself in the forest for three months. As fighting in the reserve continued, poaching of primates and elephants became rampant. Ewango directly confronted military commanders and informed them of regulations prohibiting poaching. The practice was curbed. Looking Ahead When the war ended in 2002, the reserve was intact. Due in part to Ewango's bravery, a number of poachers were arrested or exiled, and injunctions against mining within the reserve were created. In recognition of his noble efforts, Ewango's international colleagues insisted he continue his studies. He received a scholarship to begin a master's degree program in tropical botany at the University of Missouri. When he graduates in late 2005, Ewango will return to the DRC equipped with newfound knowledge to further protect the nation's botanical resources.
"Separation is not an easy thing. You have to have passion to do it, to deprive myself of my country and my family that I love so much. But I know that even if what we are doing is not understood today, tomorrow we will be shown to be right."
Indigenous Leader Defends Forests in Mexico Isidro Baldenegro López, 38, is a subsistence farmer and community leader of Mexico's indigenous Tarahumara people in the country's Sierra Madre mountain region. He has spent much of his life defending old growth forests from devastating logging in a region torn by violence, corruption and drug-trafficking. Ninety-Nine percent of the Old-Growth Forest Is Gone The spectacular Western Sierra Madre mountain range hosts one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, ranging from snow-covered peaks to four separate canyons, each deeper than the Grand Canyon in the United States. In addition to the 120 species of neo-tropical migratory birds which winter in the region, it is also home to 26 threatened or endangered species including thick-billed parrots, spotted owl, northern goshawk, military macaw, as well as a number of native fish, reptiles and amphibians. The region is also home to the Tarahumara, one of the largest indigenous groups in North America. But the region's long history of resource extraction, violence and corruption threatens both the forest and the indigenous communities. Ever since the Spanish invaded Mexico in search of precious metals, the Tarahumara and other native peoples have sought refuge in the remote mountain valleys. Today, loggers and ranchers seek lumber and land at any cost, forcing many people to flee and destroying the vast majority of old-growth forest. In fact, 99 percent of the region's old-growth forests have been logged. In the Name of His Father According to local and international non-governmental organizations, the area is controlled informally by violent local crime bosses who gained power in the last 30 years by laundering drug money through logging and ranching operations. The government has been largely unresponsive to the violence, resulting in regional impunity. Tragically, Baldenegro is acutely aware of the grave risks involved in defending the forest. As a boy, he witnessed firsthand the assassination of his father who was killed because he opposed logging. In the face of these serious risks and repeated threats against his life, Baldenegro has chosen to remain and defend the forest and ancestral lands his community has inhabited for hundreds of years. In 1993, Baldenegro developed a non-violent grassroots resistance movement to fight the logging, gaining support from local and international NGOs. In 2002, he organized non-violent sit-ins and marches, prompting the government to temporarily suspend logging in the area. The following year he mobilized a massive human blockade of mostly women whose husbands had been murdered, resulting in a special court order outlawing logging in the area. False Arrest Following the 2003 blockade, Baldenegro suddenly was jailed on what would later prove to be false charges of arms and drug possession. His arrest generated international solidarity from important environmental and human rights NGOs, and Amnesty International declared Baldenegro a prisoner of conscience. Released in June 2004 after 15 months of prison, he emerged even more determined, encouraged by the immense international support. Soon after, he and his supporters won two more government logging suspensions. Motivated by his success, he established an environmental justice organization, which currently has cases pending in the federal courts. Defending a Way of Life Baldenegro's courageous efforts have made him a national and international hero. He has brought world attention to the beautiful, ecologically crucial old-growth forests of the Sierra Madre as well as the survival of the Tarahumara.
"To seek a better future for the communities and the coming generations, to denounce the injustices committed against the indigenous people and to protect the forest and natural resources of the Tarahumara Sierra."
Submitted by kaatakhanova05 on Fri, 2006-03-03 14:25
A Passionate Biologist
Kaisha Atakhanova, 47, is leading the campaign to prevent nuclear waste from being commercially imported into the Republic of Kazakhstan. A biologist specializing in the genetic effects of nuclear radiation, Atakhanova founded and directs the Karaganda Ecological Center (known as EcoCenter), which promotes grassroots democracy-building and environmental protection within government and civil society. Read more »
A Passionate Biologist Kaisha Atakhanova, 47, is leading the campaign to prevent nuclear waste from being commercially imported into the Republic of Kazakhstan. A biologist specializing in the genetic effects of nuclear radiation, Atakhanova founded and directs the Karaganda Ecological Center (known as EcoCenter), which promotes grassroots democracy-building and environmental protection within government and civil society. A Devastating Soviet Legacy The entire Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan is highly polluted by nuclear contamination, a 40-year legacy it inherited from Soviet rule. Nuclear testing equal to the explosion of 20,000 Hiroshima bombs was conducted there and the resulting radiation contaminated the country's crops, land and livestock, and caused severe health problems among local people. Kazakhstan currently houses 237 million tons of radioactive waste at more than 500 locations that await safe disposal. Experts say that nearly one of every 10 Kazakh citizens is directly affected by the Soviet nuclear legacy. A New Nuclear Threat In June 2001, KazAtomProm, the commercial branch of the Kazakh State Committee on Nuclear Energy, quietly introduced legislation to allow nuclear waste to be imported commercially and disposed of in Kazakhstan. The move directly challenged existing legislation outlawing such importation. The money "potentially in the billions" would be used to help Kazakhstan deal with its own nuclear waste problems, proponents said. When news of the KazAtomProm plan was leaked to the public, Atakhanova organized a meeting of NGO leaders to discuss how to wage a campaign against the legislation. Fifteen organizations formed a steering committee to reach out to other NGOs across the country and build a campaign against the proposed change in law. Eventually 60 NGOs joined the grassroots network and challenged the assertion that nuclear waste importation would generate large revenues for the country. Their argument was threefold: Kazakhstan is a country rich in oil, gas and other natural resources, which precludes the need to raise money by importing radioactive waste; increased nuclear contamination would deter international tourists from traveling to the country; and, because corruption in Kazakhstan is rampant, there would be no guarantees about how the revenues would be spent. Grassroots Victory in the Halls of Power Learning that the vote was scheduled for January 2003, Atakhanova helped develop a New Year's letter that was sent to all Parliament members via registered mail, asking them to state their intended vote on the issue. Atakhanova exposed the votes of the ministers and ultimately influenced them to declare that they would not pursue the importation of nuclear waste. At almost the same time, the Kazakh Parliament proposed legislation that would weaken civil society organizations and limit their ability to organize against the government. Atakhanova and her colleagues lobbied against it, and the president withdrew the legislation from consideration in October 2003. Creating a Roadmap for Democracy As a result of Atakhanova's efforts, the nuclear waste legislation not only was stopped, but the visibility of nuclear contamination issues has reached new heights across the country. The budding grassroots civil society movement asserted its right and ability to challenge government's anti-democratic interests in an entirely new way. In addition, under Atakhanova's leadership, EcoCenter has helped develop an environmental movement through EcoForum, a network of more than 100 NGOs nationwide.
"My journey is guided by a deep respect for the earth's fragility. We must be aware that the earth demands individual accountability."