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EcoCentro
Earth Day Heroes

  En español
Por Javier Sierra

It's hard to imagine anything more harmless than a drop of water. Many drops, however, one after another, can pierce the hardest rock.

This is the concept that on April 22 attracts millions of people, millions of drops of water, to celebrate Earth Day, a world event dedicated to a healthy and peaceful planet. It's also hard to imagine a more appropriate moment than this, when the thunder of war still resonates and environmental protections are being over-turned, to observe Earth Day.

Let's celebrate by remembering the ceaseless work of four Latinos who have dedicated their lives to saving and preserving nature's gifts, not just one day. They are like four drops of water whose courage and determination have turned them into torrents of wisdom for the rest of us.

I want to start with two campesinos from the Mexican state of Guerrero, Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, leaders of the Organization of Campesino Environmentalists of the Sierra de Petatlán and Coyuca de Catalán (OECSPCC). These mountains in Western Mexico are wooded with old growth conifers, whose environmental and commercial value is incalculable. In the 1990s, national and international timber companies were clear-cutting these forests, causing mass erosion and ruin for the local campesinos.

But Montiel and Cabrera decided to fight back. Their protests forced US multinational Boise Cascade Corp. to leave the area. This enraged the local landlords, who, with the assistance of the army, started to terrorize the campesinos. In May 1999, the troops stormed town where Montiel and Cabrera lived and arrested them, falsely charging them both with belonging to a guerrilla group, illegal possession of weapons and drug trafficking. Under torture, they admitted the "crimes."

Montiel and Cabrera's enemies were determined to use any means to stop them. Their lawyer, Digna Ochoa, was murdered execution style in her Mexico City office on Oct. 19. Days later, convinced of their innocence, President Vicente Fox freed them both.

But Montiel and Cabrera still fear for their lives. Right next to Ochoa's body, her murderers left a note promising to kill all the OECSPCC members.

Paid killers are not what posses a grave danger to the residents of a community on this side of the border. In San Bernardino, CA, after five years of fighting in the name of her community, Marilyn Alcantar still finds it "unconceivable" that right next to the barrio's elementary school sits the world's largest natural gas refueling station.

Each day, dozens of buses from the local public transportation system fill their tanks with natural gas, a toxic substance that causes several respiratory illnesses, including asthma.

"Here asthma is an epidemic, my children have it, and almost all children have it," Alcantar says. "And since there are not detection systems -only inside the station- we don't know how badly we are being gassed.

"They have picked the wrong mother to gas her children (…). Bringing this station to a residential neighborhood is a tremendous injustice (…), and if we were not Latino and poor, this would not happen. But I will never give up until they take it away."

Alexis Massol-González has never given up either. This civil engineer from Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, armed with determination and passion for the environment, stopped the ruin of one of the most beautiful places on the island. In two occasions, in 1986 and 1993, the island's government issued mining permits in the Gigante Dormido Mountains, which provide drinking water for one million islanders.

Companies were already salivating over the open-pit mining -the most devastating form of mineral extraction- of rich gold, silver and copper deposits. But by mobilizing the community, Massol-González not only was able to force the cancellation of the permits but also convinced the government to turn almost 750 acres into Bosque del Pueblo Community Forest.

His dedication and the impact his work had on an enormously important ecosystem earned Massol-González the 2002 Goldman Prize for islands and island nations.

Montiel, Cabrera, Alcantar y Massol-González are four powerful drops of water. They have moved mountains and minds in their dedication to the Earth.

Javier Sierra es columnista del Sierra Club. El Sierra Club es la mayor y más antigua organización de base medioambiental en Estados Unidos.


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