Amazon Watch partners with indigenous and environmental organizations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability and the preservation of the Amazon's ecological systems. In this edition of Press Play we talked with Paul Paz y Miño, the organization´s Associate Director.
NYXT: Tell us about how you got involved with Amazon Watch. How does your personal vision resonate with the organization's goals?
I grew up in Philadelphia and due in part to a Quaker education have always had a strong focus on social justice. I have been a human rights advocate for over 27 years with a focus on Latin America and years of experience working with indigenous communities. My family is also Ecuadorian and I have spent a lot of time there connecting with the people and the environment. Amazon Watch's mission to defend the Amazon and indigenous rights is extremely close to my personal mission in life. I have been with Amazon Watch since 2007 and I do not think there is an organization I am better suited for. In addition, I have spent many years campaigning against Chevron for its deliberate dumping of 16 billion gallons of toxic waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon and I am able to play a key role in continuing those efforts at Amazon Watch.
NYXT: What are the main challenges of your job?
As with many advocacy focused non-profits a primary challenge is raising the support we need to do our work. Organizations that directly challenge corporate power in the world are often the ones with the greatest hurdles to face in terms of fundraising. The politics behind our work of challenging some of the most powerful forces in the economy can be difficult. In addition, it is hard to continually and adequately respond to the crisis on the ground which happen frequently. Advancing long term goals and strategies can become harder when the safety and security of our partners is in crisis. As a small NGO, and one with many long-term partnerships with indigenous communities, we often find our capacity taxed in order to respond to the many needs and requests of our allies in the Amazon.
NYXT: What are Amazon Watch’s main goals for this year?
Amazon Watch is investing a great deal of time and energy into responding to the extreme crisis in Brazil due to the Bolsonaro regime and its efforts to violate indigenous rights and raze the Amazon itself to plunder its resources. We have joined with the indigenous resistance and have already released two reports exposing the international financiers backing Bolsonaro's plans. This has been identified by several leading environmental advocates as the most important environmental fight in the world right now. In addition, we are working diligently to stop all new oil activities in the Western Amazon (Ecuador, Colombia and Peru) and to protect the "Sacred Headwaters" of the Amazon itself. We have launched a new campaign exposing BlackRock as the largest investor in fossil fuel companies - to pressure them to divest from corporations exacerbating the climate crisis and invest in clean renewable energy.
NYXT: Does Amazon Watch collaborate with other non-profits? Which ones and how?
Yes, Amazon Watch works with many non-profits in the U.S. and internationally. We often team up on campaigns (e.g. BlackRocks Big Problem) and on efforts to influence policy makers (e.g. Brown's Last Chance). We are part of coalitions to help protect environmental defenders (e.g. The Goldman Environmental Prize) and free speech (e.g. Protect the Protest). We often work closely with Greenpeace, Stand.Earth. International Rivers, Amnesty International, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and many more. In the Amazon we have close relationships with many indigenous federations and organizations. There is a long list in each of our annual reports.
NYXT: What would you recommend to someone that is looking to be more involved and help protect the environment?
I believe everyone has a personal responsibility to adjust their individual practices to help the environment. We each make choices every single day about the food we eat, where we shop, how we get around, etc. Apart from that, we all need to be advocates for the environment. We are in a climate crisis and it's important to express that routinely so that others become more aware. Most importantly, we can't successfully challenge those who are worsening the crisis (primarily the fossil fuel industry) if we don't advocate at every level of government to take action. I encourage everyone to find out who is organizing locally and get involved with those groups, as well as supporting non-profits who align with your vision of a better world. Personally, I believe the Green New Deal is our best hope to adequately address the issues in the U.S. and supporting politicians behind that in the upcoming U.S. election is absolutely vital.
NYXT: Would you like to add anything else?
These are extremely challenging times to advance human rights and environmental justice. I take hope from my connection to indigenous communities on the front lines of these battles and I am grateful to be involved in ways to support them directly. They are fighting not only for their own survival, but everyone's. They have not wavered in that fight despite the odds and we must not either. The most effective way to protect forests - upon which we ALL depend - is to advance the rights of local and indigenous communities. I support this work because I believe in human rights and indigenous rights, but everyone SHOULD support our work regardless, because we are working on nothing less than preserving an environment that will allow humanity to continue on Earth. I don't know of a more important fight.
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