Rivas and Diaz have been involved with communities affected by the Yacyretá Dam since 1991. In 1996, Sobrevivencia filed a claim with the World Bank’s independent inspection panel and the Interamerican Development Bank’s Independent Inspection Mechanism, regarding the Yacyretá hydroelectric project. The organization charged that the project’s severe problems were caused by violations of World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank environmental and resettlement policies. The claim led to the development of a new model that can be used to investigate other development projects with social and environmental consequences.
In the fight against the Hidrovía project, Rivas and Diaz led a coalition of 300 groups of indigenous people, local communities and environmentalists from each of the five interested nations to develop a “floating seminar.” The educational campaign traveled 1,200 kilometers in three traditional riverboats, along the Paraguay River to alert local communities to the implications of the Hidrovia project. They successfully persuaded the Hidrovía’s sponsors to recognize the project’s negative social and environmental impacts, and proposed sustainable alternatives that would not require large-scale interventions on the rivers.
Rivas and Diaz founded Sobrevivencia in 1986, while Paraguay was still struggling under the oppressive rule of General Alfredo Stroessner, whose economic development initiatives led to severe environmental degradation. Sobrevivencia set out to restore quality of life to poor, indigenous and marginalized urban Paraguayans through environmental conservation. In addition to its groundbreaking international work, the organization’s regional work ranges from a sustainable agriculture program for hundreds of families to the legalization of indigenous territories and supporting land use policies in the Gran Chaco region. Under the leadership of Rivas and Diaz, Sobrevivencia also initiated the creation of national and local protected areas and maintains two experimental farms.
Sobrevivencia trains youth to become volunteers in their communities, conducts street theater in poor urban communities to educate Paraguayans about health and sanitation, and has produced a weekly environmental radio show, among other projects. Since its creation, Sobrevivencia has actively advocated for democracy and lobbied for public policies that would protect the rights of people suffering from the consequences of ill-fated development projects.