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You are here: Home / Media / Archive / 2000 / goldman






On Monday April 17, Oscar Rivas and Elías Díaz Peña of Sobrevivencia/Friends of the Earth Paraguay received the Goldman Prize, the world's largest award for grassroots environmentalists. Rivas and Díaz Peña are among the seven environmental heroes from around the globe who received the prestigious prize -- which includes a $125,000 award -- at a ceremony in San Francisco.

The FoE Paraguay activists were nominated for the award due to their long, valiant and ongoing resistance to two export-driven economic development projects along the Paraná and Paraguay rivers in South America's Río de la Plata Basin.

Rivas and Díaz Peña began working with communities affected by the Yacyretá Dam in 1991. Over the years, this hydroelectric project has flooded the homes of 50,000 people, disrupted fish migration (and thus subsistence diets), and drastically altered the region’s groundwater system. In 1996, Sobrevivencia filed a claim with the World Bank’s independent inspection panel and the Inter-American Development Bank's independent inspection mechanism regarding the Yacyretá Dam. The organization charged that the project’s severe problems were caused by violations of the banks’ environmental and resettlement policies. The claim led to the development of a new model that can be used to investigate other development projects with social and environmental consequences.

As originally designed, the Hidrovía navigation project would have converted 3,400 kilometers of the Paraguay and Paraná River systems into an industrial shipping channel, endangering the world’s largest wetlands, the Pantanal, and destroying local economies and communities in Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. In the fight against the Hidrovía, Rivas and Díaz Peña led a coalition of 300 groups of indigenous people, communities and environmentalists from each of the five nations to develop a "floating seminar." The educational campaign traveled 1,200 kilometers in three traditional riverboats along the Paraguay River to alert local communities to the implications of the Hidrovía project. They successfully persuaded the Hidrovía’s sponsors to recognize the project’s negative social and environmental impacts, and proposed sustainable alternatives that would not require large-scale interventions on the rivers.


Rivas and Díaz Peña founded Sobrevivencia in 1986, while Paraguay struggled under the oppressive rule of General Alfredo Stroessner. Their campaigning to restore quality of life to poor, indigenous and marginalized Paraguayans through environmental conservation continued throughout the ensuing political turmoil involving efforts by fascistic groups to regain control of the country. Since its creation, Sobrevivencia has actively advocated for democracy and lobbied for policies that would protect the rights of people suffering from the consequences of ill-fated development projects. The group joined Friends of the Earth International in1992.

"As long as the ‘ancient tribes of the future’- indigenous peoples and traditional communities, keepers of the great original wisdom, owners of the key to continuation of life on the planet - maintain their tenacity and resistance, we will all find hope in our threatened future," says Oscar Rivas. Elías Díaz Peña adds: "To achieve sustainability among human societies, we must revise the present development model which is based on exploitation of resources and imposed by centers of power. We must replace it with new, creative systems that originate from within local communities, are based on their real needs and priorities, and are directed towards recovery and conservation of life quality."

Friends of the Earth activists have also received the prestigious Goldman Prize in previous years. FoEI Chair Ricardo Navarro from El Salvador was awarded the prize in 1995. Samuel Nguiffo from Friends of the Earth's new member group in Cameroon, Centre for Environment and Development, was a 1999 recipient. FoE Australia has long campaigned with two of the 1999 Goldman Prize winners, Jacqui Katona and Yvonne Margarula of the Mirrar people, against the Jabiluka uranium mine in Australia's Kakadu National Park. 1991 winner Wangari Maathai from Kenya is a member of Friends of the Earth International's Council of Patrons.

For more information



Ann Doherty, FoEI Secretariat, Amsterdam

Tel: 31 20 622 1369; e-mail:

Chuck Greene, Goldman Environmental Foundation

Tel: 415 788 9090







Founded in 1971, Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) is a global federation of 61 non-governmental environmental organizations from as many countries.




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