Prize Goes to Mexican Logging Protester
by Jenny Coyle
Though gaunt, weary and still recovering from past beatings by police
officers, Mexican forest activist Rodolfo Montiel smiled and offered hearty thanks when,
in April, he was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize - in jail. The annual prize is
given to unsung grassroots activists from around the world and comes with a $125,000 cash
award to spend any way the recipient chooses. Six other environmental heroes received the
Goldman prize at an April 17 ceremony in San Francisco.
Montiel was arrested for protesting the damage caused by corporate logging operations
clearcutting old-growth forests near his hometown. With his court trial just around the
corner, Goldman officials, along with representatives from the Sierra Club and Amnesty
International, presented Montiel with the award on April 6.
Earlier in the week, the Club, Amnesty and Mexico's Human Rights Center
PRODH ran open letters to Mexico's President Zedillo in daily and weekly newspapers
calling for the immediate release of Rodolfo and fellow imprisoned forest activist Teodoro
Cabrera. The two men were named Prisoners of Conscience by Amnesty. And a press conference
was held to announce the Goldman prize; Montiel's wife, Ubalda Cortez Sagaldo, was there.
"Rodolfo called in from prison during the press event," said
Alejandro Queral, associate representative with the Club's Human Rights and the
Environment Campaign. "He said: 'I appreciate the award, but I'm concerned for the
safety of my colleagues who are working out there to stop the logging, and I'm concerned
that the trees keep falling as I sit here in jail.'"
The following day, Montiel was presented with the award in an office at
the jail. "He seems to be in pretty good shape, though he's aged some," said
Queral, who also met on Montiel's behalf with Mexican officials, including Attorney
General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar.
"Our meeting with Cuellar gave us some hope, and the Mexican embassy
in Washington, D.C., is getting about 150 letters a week from activists. With all of this
and the attention from the Goldman prize, I think there will be some action in the next
couple of months," said Queral.
Montiel has put his prize money into a fund for community-based irrigation
and reforestation projects.
Among the other Goldman recipients is obstetrician Oral Ataniyazova, who
founded a clinic in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan. There she leads
the fight against pesticide contamination and draining the Aral Sea for cotton farming.
Vera Mischenko, a Russian attorney, founded Ecojuris, the first Russian
public interest law organization. Her lawsuits have protected forests, stopped a railroad
line through a national park and halted a destructive oil-development project.
Nat Quansah, an ethnobotanist in Madagascar, runs a clinic to educate
people about the traditional medicinal use of plants. The use of local medicinal plants
has raised the community's awareness of the importance of the island's forest
Alexander Peal of Liberia, in collaboration with international
conservation organizations, worked for the creation of Sapo National Park, Liberia's first
and only national park.
Two Paraguayans, Elias Diaz Pena and Oscar Rivas, have led the effort to
stop the internationally financed Hidrovia Paraguay-Paran navigation project from
draining, dredging and altering the region's premier waterway, thereby saving some 2,000
acres of wetlands.
To Take Action: Write to Mexican Attorney General Cuellar
and urge him to drop the charges against Montiel and Cabrera, and immediately and
unconditionally release them. (Remember: a one-ounce letter to Mexico costs 46 cents.) Send it to Lic. Jorge Madrazo
Cuellar, Procurador General de la Republica, Paseo de la Refor 65, Esq. Violeta, Col.
Guerrero, Mexico, DF 06300.
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