2020 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners

by Isabelle Johnson, LACIS Communications/Social Media Assistant

This week, LACIS would like to congratulate two incredible Indigenous leaders from Latin America, Leydy Pech and Nemonte Nenquimo for being named the 2020 Goldman Environmental Prize recipients from the North America and South and Central America regions. Each year, The Goldman Environmental Prize recognizes the achievements and leadership of grassroots environmental activists from all over the world as they inspire us to fight for our environment and protect the planet.

Leydy Pech Martín / Image: Via México Desconocido

The winner from North America, Leydy Pech, is a beekeeper and an activist from Hopelchén, Campeche in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. An indigenous Maya beekeeper, Pech organized the effort that halted planting of genetically modified soybeans in southern Mexico. “Roundup Ready” the chemical used in growing these soybeans, contains a glyphosate, a potential carcinogen that has been linked also to miscarriages, birth defects and bee death. Since most of the beekeepers are Maya, and beekeeping has been an important part of the Maya culture for centuries before the discovery of America, Maya activists, led by Leydy Pech, appealed to the Mexican Supreme Court to forbid planting of GM soy based on their right to culture. The Court ruled that the Mayans’ constitutional rights had been violated and suspended the planting of genetically modified soybeans. Due to the efforts of Pech and her coalition, in September 2017, the Food and Agricultural Service of Mexico rescinded the permits to grow genetically modified soybeans in seven states. The complex story of Maya people struggle has been described in Suryanarayanan and Beilin’s “Milpa Melipona Maya”, published in ACME in June 2020. Click here to listen to Pech’s acceptance speech and learn more about her work!

Nemonte Nenquimo / Image: Stefan Ruiz
The winner from South and Central America, Nemonte Nenquimo, is an organizer from the Waorani territory of Ecuador that overlaps with Yasuni National Park, one of the areas of the greatest biodiversity in the world. Oil exploration, logging, and road building have had a disastrous impact on Ecuador’s primary rainforests, which now make up less than 15% of the country’s land mass. Since the 1960s, oil companies have dumped waste into local rivers and contaminated land, while displacing indigenous people from their land. To combat these human rights abuses and protect her peoples’ land, Nequimo led an indigenous campaign and pushed for legal action that resulted in a court ruling protecting 500,000 acres of Amazonian rainforest and Waorani territory from oil extraction. Nenquimo’s leadership and subsequent lawsuit set a very important legal precedent for indigenous rights in Ecuador, and other indigenous groups are following in her footsteps to protect additional tracts of rainforest from oil extraction. To listen to Nenquimo’s acceptance speech and learn more about her efforts, click here!