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By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
Since the 1960s, the government of this commonwealth of the United States had the intention of authorizing open-pit copper mining in the mountainous municipalities of Lares, Adjuntas and Utuado. But a grassroots environmental campaign forced the government, after decades of struggle, to give up the project.
In 1996, then-Governor Pedro Rosselló prohibited open-pit mining on the island and designated by law the plot of land where the excavation would take place as the “Bosque del Pueblo”.
The opposition to mining was led by Casa Pueblo, a non-governmental organization based in the western-central municipality of Adjuntas. The group was founded in 1980 by artists, intellectuals and environmentalists associated with Juan Antonio Corretjer, an internationally renowned poet and one of the leading figures in the independence movement until his death in 1985.
From 1937 to 1942, Corretjer was in prison in the United States for his association with the Nationalist Party, which participated in the armed struggle for independence.
In 1982, a secret source inside La Fortaleza, the governor's residence that houses the Executive Branch, leaked a mysterious map of Puerto Rico to Corretjer's group, which showed the island criss-crossed by infrastructure projects, highways, petrochemical factories, mines. open pit and military bases.
Corretjer commissioned Casa Pueblo, then called Taller de Arte y Cultura, to investigate what the map meant. After consulting various sources, including the US Army Corps of Engineers, the group discovered Plan 2020, a secret project for the extraction of natural resources and militarized economic development that was based on open pit mining.
More than 30 years after the exposure of the 2020 Plan, open pit mining stopped before it started, but other elements of the project, such as the construction of highways, continue apace despite protests from environmental organizations.
Casa Pueblo remains vigilant in protecting the Puerto Rico environment and active in promoting sustainable development. From 1999 to 2003, the organization assisted protesters who resorted to civil disobedience to close down a US Navy firing range on the island-municipality of Vieques.
Casa Pueblo volunteers conducted scientific studies of military contamination at the shooting range.
For its work in favor of peace and development, Casa Pueblo won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2002.
"This is a project of evolution and reevolution," said the founder and director of the organization, Alexis Massol. “It is a response to the capitalist colonial project that the North American empire tries to impose on us.
Our project is dynamic. You are not afraid of facing mistakes or contradictions. And it combines education and action ”, he added. Casa Pueblo is named after their physical home, an old house that the organization occupied and restored in the mid-1980s. It has a community library and a large room that is often used for meetings and cultural and artistic activities. .
The second floor is used for a resident artist program. In the back there is a butterfly sanctuary and another structure that houses Radio Casa Pueblo, the first community radio station in Puerto Rico, founded in 2007.
Self-management is very important to Casa Pueblo. Since 1989 it has been financed with the sale of its own brand of artisan coffee, Madre Isla. Much of it is grown on a farm owned by the organization, which also offers ecotourism.
In 1999, the Casa Pueblo building became independent from the electricity grid and switched to a solar energy system. "We are financially self-sufficient, and that is why when we speak of freedom it is not a mere speech," Massol told IPS. "We speak with our own independent voice and we do not make alliances with political parties," he said.
The organization's most ambitious project is the Adjuntas Tierras Model Forest. This project, which Governor Alejandro García Padilla signed into law but is in the process of being amended by the Puerto Rican Parliament, will cover more than 153,000 hectares and will link 20 existing protected natural areas through ecological corridors.
"The Model Forest is a project of sustainable economic development, ecological preservation and citizen participation," explained economist Mike Soto Class, president of the Center for a New Economy, a San Juan-based research center.
The forest “fosters conservation, while generating businesses and jobs, and contributes to the country's food security. It is a project that exemplifies a paradigm shift in the use of resources, and in the way that development and governance models are conceived ”, he described.
"Model Forests are socially-based processes in which groups representing a diversity of actors and sectors work together towards a common vision of the sustainable development of their territory," according to the Ibero-American Network of Model Forests.
"They contribute to global goals for poverty reduction, climate change and the fight against desertification, and to global goals for sustainable development," he adds.
There are currently 28 model forests in Latin America. “This forest will have popular participation and shared government. It is going to be an ecological project, but it will also include economic development, especially agriculture ”, explained Massol. Casa Pueblo proposed that the Model Forest of the Adjuntas Lands be a zone of sustainable agriculture, without genetically modified crops.
Edited by Kitty Stapp / Translated by Álvaro Queiruga