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The Planet
Jailed Activist Gets Goldman

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 conservation.

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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