In an effort to win a positive hearing from a Mexico court, the Goldman Environmental Prize jury has announced the Prize for North America 12 days early.
Rodolfo Montiel Flores, 44, leader of a grassroots, rural Mexican ecological movement, is receiving a $125,000 prize from the San Francisco based Goldman Environmental Foundation at a press conference in the Mexican capital today.
The world's largest award honoring grassroots environmental achievement, the Goldman Prize is announced every year on or near Earth Day. The prize is one of seven to be awarded this year. The other six will be announced on April 17 at a ceremony in San Francisco, California, as is customary.
Because Montiel has been in prison since May 2, 1999, the Goldman Prize jury decided to announce this year's Prize for North America 12 days early in the hope that an early announcement will have a positive impact on his trial.
Rodolfo Montiel Flores (Photos courtesy Goldman Prize Foundation)
Presenting the award in Mexico City is Goldman Environmental Prize juror Dr. lvaro Umaa, formerly Costa Rican minister for the environment, and an internationally respected figure in the field of environmental protection and economic development. Representatives of the Sierra Club and Amnesty International are also present.
Montiel is represented at the event by his wife, Ubalda Corts Salgado. He is expected to address the gathering by telephone from the prison in Igual.
From the mid-1990s, campesinos from the state of Guerrero have seen the mountains of the southern Sierra Madre stripped of their old growth white pine and fir forests by national and transnational logging interests, with far reaching consequences for arable and grazing lands.
Montiel united local subsistence farmers and environmentalists in a group called the Organization of Campesino Ecologists of the Sierra de Petatln and Coyuca de Cataln to protest the environmental degradation, corruption, and human rights violations. Originally holding meetings in private homes, the group worked up to gatherings of some hundred members and incorporated in February 1998.
The movement was brutally suppressed by the Mexican Army. On May 2, 1999 Montiel and a fellow campesino, Teodoro Cabrera Garca, were arrested, beaten, forced to pose for photographs holding rifles that did not belong to them, and imprisoned, accused of having ties to a guerrilla movement, illegal possession of weapons, and drug trafficking. They have repudiated confessions they signed as the result of beatings and torture.
Montiel's protests are linked to the activities of the Idaho based Boise Cascade Corporation.
In 1995 Boise Cascade and the Guerrero governor signed an agreement, made possible by constitutional changes implemented in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for exclusive rights to buy wood from local ejidos - villages whose residents work communal lands.
Boise Cascade and a subsidiary, Costa Grande Forest Products, began large scale timber purchases in the area soon after NAFTA was implemented in Mexico.
On several occasions, the group organized by Montiel prevented logging trucks from leaving the forests with their cargo, and obliged local mills supplying Boise Cascade to suspend operations. Boise Cascade left Guerrero in 1998, citing "difficult business conditions," but indiscriminate logging in the area and the protests have continued.
Rapid and widespread deforestation produces serious long-term ecological effects, including an increased rate of erosion of topsoil, changes in local weather patterns, and increased periods of drought.
Rodolfo Montiel Flores (Photos courtesy Goldman Prize Foundation)
Montiel said in a statement published by the Goldman Environmental Prize, "We have stated that we oppose deforestation, we oppose burning, we oppose pollution. We aren't against anybody, but rather we hope that everybody will look out for the ecology, because to damage the ecology is to do damage to ourselves, to harm our families, to harm and destroy the future of our children and grandchildren; besides, this legacy of ours does not belong just to public officials, nor to the
members of the ejidos, nor to those who govern, nor to the SEMARNAP [government department for marine resources, natural resources and fishing], but rather to all the inhabitants of the world."
The logging and burning over of the lands has ruined the rivers in his region, Montiel says. "Many people were acquainted with the Mameyal River, which was big, and had many crayfish and trout; now it contains just garbage, broken glass, plastic jugs and suds. The Fro River, which was also big, is now just an arroyo; the crayfish have completely disappeared as a result of the burning, the deforestation, and the use of toxic fluids by the cattlemen who wash down their animals at the edge of the river."
Montiel has said he will use the Goldman Prize award, the equivalent of more than one million pesos, to create a trust for the purchase of irrigation equipment in the region where he lives in the state of Guerrero.
"Since 1990 we have recognized 64 individuals from around the world for their heroic efforts to preserve the environment," says Richard Goldman, president of the Foundation. "Like many of the Goldman Environmental Prize recipients before him, Rodolfo Montiel Flores has shown great courage and a willingness to sacrifice everything for what he believes. We believe that people should be applauded for doing the right thing, instead of being treated as criminals."
A network of 23 environmental organizations worldwide and a confidential panel of experts representing more than 45 nations anonymously submit annual nominations of grass-roots environmental leaders from each continent, from which the Foundation selects the prize recipients.
For more about the Goldman Environmental Prize, visit www.goldmanprize.org
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