The Scientific and Guarantee Committee of the Alexander Langer Foundation, composed of Renzo Imbeni (President), Gianni Tamino (Vice-president), Pinuccia Montanari (spokesperson), Ursula Apitsch, Elis Deghenghi Olujiae, Sonia Filippazzi, Margit Pieber and Alessandra Zendron, decided to award the “International Alexander Langer Prize 2002”, endowed with 10.000 Euros, Esperanza Martínez.
Esperanza Martinez is the founder of the association “Acción Ecológica”, member organisation of “Friends of the Earth”, in Ecuador, co-ordinator of the observation ward for eco-political development of the Amazon area, and co-founder of Oilwatch, an international network set up to defend delicate eco systems and the ancient rights of indigenous population against the ravages caused by extraction of petroleum.
Esperanza Martínez, 43 years old, is a mother of three children and a biologist specialising in environmental management.
She grew up in Panama where she undertook the major part of her studies. Returning to Ecuador she decided to devote her entire knowledge, energy and power to those parts which appear most unprotected: society and environment.
In the beginning of the 70’s the government of Ecuador granted permission to some multinational concerns seeking for, and extracting, petroleum in a vast Amazonian area comprising of a surface area of more than one million hectares, which counts as one of the most precious territories on earth, with a huge variety of species of animals and plants. The oil production in such a fragile eco system consequently causes massive changes in the environment and contributes to detrimental living conditions of the indigenous population, putting their conscientious use of the soil and natural resources in crisis, leading eventually to a disintegration of the existing social bonds.
Being conscious of the complexity of the different interests in this matter, Esperanza Martínez decided to support women groups and local organisations who, with patience and persistence, were calling into life new groups, thus initiating a net of allies which grew out of the Amazon valley. Not long afterwards, these initiatives had broadened from North to South and had eventually reached the whole world.
In a skilful and intelligent way she obtained an acknowledgement that oil drilling activities in this delicate territory was a violation against the law. Eventually she succeeded in reaching a temporary refrain from further oil production.
In Rio 1992 at the UNO Assembly it was already established that oil drilling activities ranges among the main factors for the loss of the biosphere and causes immense pollution of the environment, leading ultimately to the greenhouse effect and climatic changes.
This way numerous indigenous resistance groups have met, exchanged experiences, widened their competencies and concurrently supported and reinforced each other in their unanimous requests to cease with the oil extraction on their precious land. Amongst these are indigenous resistance groups from:
Venezuela, (Amigrana), Colombia (Censat and Uwa), Peru (Racimos de Ungurahui), Argentina (Mapuche), Thailand (Kalayanamitra Council), Burma (Eri), Nigeria (Era and Mosop) and
Since 1990 different eco-activist-societies have emerged, firstly “Observatorio Social Ambiental de la Amazonía”, a platform for collaboration, exchange of information and confrontation between ecological organisation and trade unions, and then later the alliance “Acción Ecológica” (with its international Campaign “Amazonía por la vida”) came into being. In 1996 “Red de Resistencia a las Actividades Petroleras en los Trópicos – Oilwatch” originated, where, up until today, Esperanza Martínez holds the position of chairwoman and co-ordinator. 46 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin-America, Europe, USA and Australia have joined the organisation as well as approximately 100 indigenous groups, ecological organisation, religious groups and human right activists.
In May 1995 Esperanza Martínez participated in a conference in Venice set up to promote: “Women for the right of a healthy environment and justice”, supporting a scheme for establishing an international environmental court in care of the United Nations.
1998 she pushed successfully for the introduction of a principle of precaution into the new constitution of Ecuador, which is the impetus of any environmental-political action. Furthermore she managed to get an official recognition for a collective right of a non-contaminated environment.
She is co-author of some informative and widespread remarkable documents such as: “Amazonía por la Vida: Debate ecológico del problema petrolero en el Ecuador” 1993; “Guía para enfrentar las actividades petroleras en territorios indígenas” 1994.
Moreover is she editor of two volumes dedicated to the theme of oil production activities in the tropics: “Oilwatch”, 1996 and “Voces de Resistencia a la actividad petrolera en los Trópicos”, 1997.
Esperanza Martínez has published in Ecuador and other countries numerous articles about these crucial topics.
Within in the last years she has focused her activities on the struggle against the expansion of an oil-pipeline, which crosses Ecuador from East to West, devastating a fragile, densely populated area.
Recently she participated in a non violent occupation of the Ministry for energy.
Her commitment to an affirmation of rights for a healthy environment in her country has been energetic, but her choice of methods has always been peaceful, carried out with passion and intelligence, relentless and yet full of spirit.
Describing her work style and her consistency the writer Jeo Kane defined Esperanza Martínez as “el corazón verde del Ecuador” - the green heart of Ecuador.
Meanwhile Nnimmo Bassey has stated: “Esperanza is a woman with strong and profound convictions. She has a revolutionary character. And exactly that’s what she passes on to you: convictions. She is helping you walking through the darkness, no matter how deep and how far it will be, knowing that there will be light on the other side of the tunnel.”
In the year of the imminent UNO World Assembly for “sustainable development”, taking place in August/September 2002 in Johannesburg, 10 years after Rio, many countries have adjusted their national legislation to the international convention in order to protect our limited environment. It is a well known fact however that in many countries in the world deforestation, pollution, poverty, injustice, and the negation of individual and collective rights is growing.
With this acknowledgement for Esperanza Martínez, the Scientific and Guarantee Committee of the Alexander Langer Foundation wants to indicate that large scale international events, burdened with such high expectations, could in the end lead to disappointment if they are not accompanied by a wide spread commitment of individuals and communities towards a profound ecological and socially desirable conversion, promoting, (in the spirit of Alexander Langer) a true “peace between human beings and nature.”