A leading figure in Brazil’s environment movement, Erwin Kräutler, is one of the four winners of the Right Livelihood Award 2010, known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’. The 71-year-old Catholic Bishop of Xingu in the Amazon region is honoured for “a lifetime of work for the human and environmental rights of indigenous peoples and for his tireless efforts to save the Amazon forest from destruction”, the prize committee in Stockholm said.
Motivated by liberation theology, Kräutler started his work as a missionary in the late 1960s and became one of Brazil’s most resolute advocates for indigenous minorities. Since 2006 he has been President of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) of the Catholic Church in Brazil; by intensive lobbying the Council helped secure the inclusion of indigenous people’s rights in the Brazilian Constitution and also raised awareness within the Church about environmental justice conflicts. Besides his advocacy commitment, Kräutler has launched numerous projects for the Xingu, such as housing for poor people, schools, emergency aid and legal support.
The situation for Brazil’s indigenous cultures is indeed a matter of great concern: Since the 1960s the populations have constantly decreased, due to direct violence linked to the appropriation of indigenous land, to land grabs for energy, settlement, mining, industry, farming, cattle, and agribusiness. In addition, military projects often aim to open up indigenous areas in the name of national security. These crimes however are rarely investigated, argues Kräutler, who is paying a high price for his commitment: In 1987 e.g. he was seriously injured in a, suspected planned car crash. Since 2006, after the murder of the environmental activist Sister Dorothy Stang, Kräutler has received permanent police protection.
Currently Kräutler, who has dual Brazilian-Austrian citizenship, is playing a decisive role in the protest movements against the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River: The prestigious project, heavily promoted by President Lula, would destroy 1000 square km of forest, and flood a third of the capital city, Altamira. More than 30,000 people would have to be relocated.
The Right Livelihood Award was founded in 1980 by Swedish journalist and former member of the European Parliament Jakob von Uexkull to recognise work he felt was being ignored by the mainstream Nobel Prizes. Kräutler will split the € 200,000 cash award with the three other award winners – activists from Nepal, Nigeria and Israel.