Luis Yanza, first president of the Amazon Defense Front (FDA), and Pablo Fajardo, a lawyer in the organization, were awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize on April 14th in San Francisco. The prize honors grassroots environmental heroes from six global regions. Yanza and Fajardo won the award for Central and South America.
The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk. Each winner receives an award of $150,000, the largest in the world for grassroots environmentalists. The Goldman Prize considers those involved in local efforts, where positive change is created through community or citizen participation in the issues that affect them. Through recognizing these individual leaders, the Goldman Prize seeks to inspire other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world.
The Amazon Defense Front was founded in 1994, and is leading a law suit against ChevronTexaco for alleged environmental damages in the northeast Amazon region of Ecuador. Oxfam America has supported the FDA since it was founded, and provided grant funds to help it organize 100 communities affected by oil pollution.
"For many years, Oxfam has helped us to organize and raise awareness in affected communities," said Luis Yanza. "This work that has been critical to keeping the case alive."
This prize is very important for Yanza and Fajardo. In addition to the financial support for their work, it will also help the FDA gain public attention and much-needed exposure in the media.
"Pablo Fajardo and Luis Yanza have always worked in close coordination with us," said Javier Aroca, program coordinator for Oxfam in South America. "We congratulate them for this award and welcome this new recognition of their efforts to defend the rights of all Ecuadorians."
About Luis Yanza
Luis Yanza was the first president of the Amazon Defense Front (FDA), an umbrella group of community and grassroots organizations formed to protect the environment in the northeastern Ecuadorian department of Sucumbíos. He now coordinates the FDA's involvement in the ChevronTexaco case and serves as liaison with the Assembly of Delegates, an organization that was formed—and which is supported by Oxfam America—to represent approximately 100 communities affected by the environmental damage left behind by Texaco.
Luis explains that "even if the trial ended today or tomorrow, or if it ends in another year or two, the process doesn't stop there, because after the court decision comes the hard work—carrying out the sentence, doing the environmental cleanup, implementing the compensation. That needs to be done in coordination and with the participation of the affected communities. Even if we lost the trial, it would have to continue, because we still need to find a solution to the people's environmental and health problems, because the situation can't go on like this..."
About Pablo Fajardo
Pablo Fajardo was born in 1972 in the town of El Carmen, in the province of Manabí. He now lives in Shushufindi, in the province of Sucumbíos since 1987. The trial against Texaco is his first case and it is a crucial one for the defense of the rights of the Amazon population, as well as for the sovereignty of Ecuador.
Pablo says that the only thing that he hopes for in the Texaco case is "that justice can be done. Those of us who live here have a great opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the country that we are men and women with rights equal to those of others."