TarcÀsio Feitosa, a social activist from the Terra do Meio ("Middle Ground") region of the northern Brazilian state of Pará, was one of yesterday’s, April 24, winners of the Golden Environment Prize, regarded as the world’s most important prize for defenders of the environment. The prize was awarded in San Francisco, California.
Feitosa, 34, was born and raised in Altamira, in the Xingu region, also in Pará, which is part of the Amazon basin. He now belongs to a people’s alliance to protect the tropical forest and local communities.
His prize, in the South and Central American category, was in recognition of his efforts on behalf of human rights and environmental protection and sustainable development in the Xingu and Terra do Meio regions.
He began his work at the age of 15, as a volunteer in the struggle to demarcate indigenous territories. He remained active in this area until 2000.
"In that region, we receive an education closely oriented towards the communities. There is an awareness concerning the situation of the indigenous peoples and the traditional populations," he says.
In 2000 Feitosa became involved in a movement opposed to the illegal extraction of mahogany wood. He documented this illicit activity and reported it to government agencies.
His initiative led to the confiscation of 6000 illegally removed mahogany logs, which were later sold in an auction that netted US$ 1.5 million, used to create a fund to underwrite sustainable development and conservation efforts in the region.
In 2002 Feitosa started working on studies to create conservation units in the Xingu basin. He is currently a member of the Land Pastoral Commission and one of the coordinators of the Movement for the Development of the Transamazon and Xingu (MTDX), a network of non-governmental organizations gathered under two banners, he says: "showing that family farming and the peoples of the forest can coexist with the forest and halting the construction of five dams in the region."
He points out that one of the dams – the Belmonte Dam – is already under construction (despite having been temporarily blocked by the courts), and the other four are in the analysis stage.
"These dams represent the destruction of this great ecological corridor, which will be completed by the creation of the conservation units," he explains.
Besides Feitosa, this year’s Goldman Environment Prize winners include social activists involved in the struggle to preserve the Danube River, the safe storage of chemical weapons wastes produced in the United States, the defense of forests in Liberia, the end of illegal logging in Papua New Guinea, and respect for society in dam construction in China.
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