By Monika Griefahn
It’s a forum of exchange for scientists and activists campaigning for human rights, the environment and social justice: the Right Livelihood Award Foundation (“Alternative Nobel Prize”) has recently inaugurated the eighth instalment of the Right Livelihood College (RLC) on the campus of the National University of Cordoba, Argentina. Raúl Montenegro, recipient of the 2004 Alternative Nobel Prize for his commitment for the environment and for local indigenous communities, is leading the campus. Since 1985, he has been Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the National University of Cordoba’s department of psychology with its 10 000 students. Montenegro is as energetic and empathic as ever and radiates positive energy aimed at changing things for the better.
The opening of the RLC campus in Cordoba sadly took place under the fresh impression of the murder of Berta Cáceres from Honduras, an environmental activist who was shot dead by gunmen in her own house in early March. A Mexican environmentalist, Gustavo Castro Soto, was wounded in the incident. In reaction to the assassination, around 50 laureates of the Alternative Nobel Prize have authored a petition addressed to the president of Honduras as well as to the country’s speaker of the parliament and its supreme court. It’s calling on the government of Honduras to not remain silent in the face of the incident. The president and the justice system should investigate and solve the crime as well as protect the lives of the remaining members of Berta Cáceres’ Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).
I addressed the assassination as part of my opening statement because I am shocked by the threats and insecurity faced by those who are simply trying to effect change for the better. Apart from Berta Cáceres, the Brasilian land reform activists Leomar Bhorbak and Vilmar Bordim were also shot dead in April. Many more people give up their lives for these elementary issues – a total of 88 campaigners for land and environmental rights died across Latin America in 2014. It’s a drastic illustration of how fierce the fight for natural resources has become these days. Berta Cáceres had been fighting against the construction of a dam.
Activists in and around Cordoba are also currently affected by events related to land rights. Many villages are in danger of being sprayed with the pesticide Glyphosate by Monsanto. Entire regions are being doused by airplane. The reason is that animal breeding in Argentina no longer makes financial sense. The new currency is soy for export as well as for the growing veggie community. The negative consequences include children who fall ill at a young age and contaminated ground water. The university and Raúl Montenegro support those who are affected – a wonderful example of how a university can be of service to humanity. It also serves to remind us here in Europe of the importance to continue the fight against the use of Glyphosate.
Dead activists or dangerous chemicals – it is paramount that we stand together, academics with activists, scientists with students, farmers with human rights campaigners. And that’s exactly what the Right Livelihood Colleges have been drawn up to do: to help everyone find ways and means to support each other’s work and to react as one whenever one of us is being threatened. We are hopeful that the embedding into universities will provide us with safe spaces to work in peace. With the help of Rául Montenegro we are determined to find ways in Cordoba to end the criminalization of peaceful humans and to create a powerful civil society on the continent as well as durable connections with Europe.