LIMA, Peru (AP) — An indigenous activist who led a campaign to halt two hydroelectric projects that would have flooded 35 square miles of Amazon river basin, displacing some 24,000 fellow Ashaninka, is among six environmental advocates being given this year's prestigious Goldman Prize.
In addition to Ruth Buendia, the other winners include Ramesh Agrawal of India, who helped villagers fight a large coal mine; Russian zoologist Suren Gazaryan, who defended protected areas around Sochi from illegal land seizures for Olympic construction projects; and American lawyer Helen Slottje, who helped communities fight fracking in New York state by discovering a legal loophole that allows individual towns to ban the oil extraction method under zoning laws.
The San Francisco-based Goldman Environmental Foundation's other 2014 winners were South Africa's Desmond D'Sa, who won for helping to close down one of his country's largest toxic waste dumps, and Indonesian biologist Rudi Putra, who helped shutter 26 illegal palm oil plantations that were causing deforestation in northern Sumatra.
The winners were to each receive $175,000 at a ceremony Monday evening at the San Francisco Opera House — an increase from the $150,000 given to previous recipients.
Buendia, a 37-year-old mother of five, took on both the Peruvian government and Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, in forcing the halting in 2011 of the Pakitzapango and Tambo 40 projects on the Ene river.
Buendia represented the Ashaninka, Peru's largest Amazon tribe, in filing court motions arguing that the projects were illegal because Peru's government had not consulted her people in advance.
The government did not contest the claim in court.
The hydroelectric projects would have chiefly benefited Brazil. Pakitzapango alone would have generated 2,200 megawatts, nearly double the production of Peru's biggest hydroelectric project.
The Ashaninka suffered mightily for resisting Shining Path rebels in the 1980s. Peru's truth commission estimates 6,000 were killed and 10,000 forcibly displaced. Buendia escaped the bloodletting by moving to Lima in 1990 after the rebels killed her father and older brother.
She told the AP she hopes her success will encourage Peru's investment-friendly government to "respect the territory, culture and will of native communities."
"We've lived through such horrors, killings that we all escaped and the situation of having to leave our homes is the same that came to mind a few years ago when we found out about the hydroelectric projects," Buendia said.
The Goldman prize was launched in 1990 with a grant from philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Goldman to honor grass-roots environmental activists in the six regions of Africa, Asia, Europe, Island Nations, North America and Latin America.
Goldman Prize: http://www.goldmanprize.org
Associated Press writer Katy Daigle in New Delhi contributed to this report.
Franklin Briceno on Twitter: http://twitter.com/franklinbriceno