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Goldman Prize Winners Face Down Danger for Earth's Sake

WASHINGTON, DC, April 21, 2005 (ENS) - Six citizen activists who work to protect the environment in difficult and dangerous situations are the 2005 winners of the annual Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots environmental activism.

At the awards ceremony Wednesday evening at the National Geographic Society, the $125,000 prizes were awarded to an activist from each region of the world. These people have motivated their nations, communities and international organizations to battle corrupt governments, independent militias, and unlawful business interests to stop destructive logging, mining and nuclear contamination.


Insurance company founder Richard Goldman of San Francisco established the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1990. (Photos courtesy Goldman Prize)
The prize has two goals, said the man who established the award in 1990, Richard Goldman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation. "The first is to make the world aware of what the efforts of one individual can accomplish; and the second, to influence world leadership, especially in the recipients’ home countries, to act positively and promptly to save our planet from further destruction. The 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize winners meet and exceed that standard."

Nominated confidentially by a network of environmental organizations and experts, including former Prize winners, distinguished environmentalists, activists and policymakers, recipients are chosen for their sustained and important environmental achievements.

"The caliber of this year's winners takes environmental activism to new heights for risk, dedication, and vision," Goldman said.

The Goldman Prize honorees for 2005 are:

  • North America: Isidro Baldenegro López, 38, Chihuahua, Mexico

    Baldenegro Baldenegro is a subsistence farmer and community leader of Mexico's indigenous Tarahumara people who live in the country's Sierra Madre Mountains. After witnessing the 1987 assassination of his father Julio Baldenegro, an Indian leader who also opposed logging, Baldenegro has spent much of his life defending old growth forests from unregulated logging in a region torn by violence, corruption and drug-trafficking.

    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.

    In 2003, soon after that blockade, Baldenegro was suddenly arrested and jailed on trumped-up charges. He was released 15 months later.

    Baldenegro has now formed his own environmental group, The Commission for Community Conscience, and his work has led to new logging bans throughout the Sierra Madre region.

    Baldenegro said he is working, "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."

  • Africa: Corneille Ewango, 41, Epulu, Democratic Republic of the Congo

    Ewango As a botanist for the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, Ewango directed the Okapi Faunal Reserve's botany program from 1996 to 2003. Through a decade of civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ewango stood on the front lines and led the protection and preservation efforts for the Reserve, its people, and its rare animals and plants.

    The rainforest of the DRC represents about half of Africa’s tropical moist forests and one-eighth of all tropical rainforests in the world. The Okapi Reserve in the Ituri Forest was created in 1992. The reserve covers more than three million acres, and shelters 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.

    During heavy fighting in 2000 and 2001, most of the Okapi Reserve’s senior staff had fled, but Ewango stayed, supported by 30 junior reserve staff and 1,500 local residents who rallied around him. He helped rebuild the confidence of those who had witnessed mass murder and rape, and together they worked to protect the reserve.

    In the forest, 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 confronted military commanders and informed them of regulations prohibiting poaching. The practice was curbed.

    Ewango is now on scholarship studying tropical botany at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.

    "Separation is not an easy thing," Ewango said. "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."

  • Asia: Kaisha Atakhanova, 47, Karaganda, Kazakhstan

    Atakhanova Atakhanova led a successful 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 which promotes grassroots democracy-building and environmental protection within government and civil society.

    Kazakhstan is polluted by a 40 year Soviet legacy of nuclear contamination. Nuclear testing equal to the explosion of 20,000 Hiroshima bombs was conducted there contaminating crops, land and livestock, and causing human health problems. Kazakhstan currently houses 237 million tons of radioactive waste at more than 500 locations that await safe disposal.

    In June 2001, KazAtomProm, the commercial branch of the Kazakh State Committee on Nuclear Energy, introduced legislation to allow nuclear waste to be imported commercially and disposed of in Kazakhstan contrary to existing law. Atakhanova organized a coalition of 60 grassroots environmental groups that successfully lobbied legislators to reject the proposal.

    Atakhanova said, "My journey is guided by a deep respect for the earth’s fragility. We must be aware that the Earth demands individual accountability."

  • South and Central America: Father José Andrés Tamayo Cortez, 47, Olancho, Honduras

    Tamayo Father Tamayo is a Catholic priest leading the struggle for environmental justice in Honduras. He directs the Environmental Movement of Olancho, 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.

    A Salvadoran native who has lived in Honduras for 22 years, Father Tamayo has worked to protect pine forests in the province of Olancho. In 2003, he led protests to preserve the forests that involved many other activists from within and outside the Catholic Church. 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, 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.

    Father Tamayo said Monday he will use the money to build an ecological center where he can continue his work.

    "Natural resources and life itself are human rights," he said, "therefore, to destroy God's creation is to attack human life; our last remaining option is to defend life with our own life."

  • Europe: Stephanie Roth, 34, Rosia Montana, Romania

    Roth A former editor at the magazine, "The Ecologist," based in London, Roth has been the driving force behind an international campaign to stop construction of Europe's largest open cast gold mine, slated to be built in Romania.

    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 Gabriel Resources, a Canadian company with no previous mining experience, to build the gold and silver mine on top of the historic town. Newmont Mining Corporation of Canada acquired part of the Rosia Montana mining project in November 2004.

    The company plans to use hazardous cyanide compounds to separate the gold and silver from the rock and pile the waste rock into a high dam across the Aries River valley, immersing a nearby village, and threatening the Aries River with cyanide pollution.

    Despite repeated death threats, Roth organized the first major protests in Romania since 1989, when anti-government demonstrators overthrew the Ceausescu regime and the Communist Party. She created a coalition of national nongovernmental organizations, archaeological specialists, academics and clergy to fight the mining proposal, currently undergoing an Environmental Impact Assessment.

    As a result of Roth’s campaign, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation withdrew support for the mining project in October 2002 and issued a statement expressing social and environmental concerns.

    The European Parliament found the project to be in breach of various EU directives, and adopted a resolution that "the Rosia Montana mine development poses a serious environmental threat to the whole region." Parliament will monitor the development, which may affect Romania’s accession to the EU.

    Roth said, "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."

  • Islands and Island Nations: Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, 58, Papay, Haiti

    Jean-Baptiste Agronomist Jean-Baptiste founded the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) in 1973 to teach the people of Haiti the principles of sustainable agriculture and anti-erosion techniques in a land that is literally washing away due to extreme deforestation. It has become one of the most effective environmental peasant movements in Haitian history, successfully fostering economic development, environmental protection and individual survival.

    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.

    His strategy to prevent the trees from being cut for firewood, 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.

    Despite a volatile political climate, Jean-Baptiste carried out his work to reach more than 200,000 people across the country. 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.

    Jean-Baptiste said, "I devote my life to building a green Haiti, a Haiti that offers an abundance of life to all of its children."

The Goldman Environmental Prize was established in 1990 by Richard and the late Rhoda Goldman. Their hope in starting this annual prize was to demonstrate the international nature of environmental problems, to draw public attention to global issues of critical importance, to reward individuals for outstanding grassroots environmental initiatives and to inspire others to emulate the examples set by the Prize recipients.

Since the Goldman Prize was first given in 1990, 107 environmental activists from 65 countries have been recognized.

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