A civil engineer who was born and raised in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, founder of Casa Pueblo, a environmental community-based organization.
Alexis Massol González led the efforts to create the Adjuntas Art and Culture Workshop, known throughout Puerto Rico as Casa Pueblo. Casa Pueblo was initially founded to oppose an open pit mine that was planned for Adjuntas, a municipality in the mountainous interior of the island of Puerto Rico, but it became an important grassroots organization and a leader on issues related to conservation and the environment in Puerto Rico.
Open-pit mining has a high impact on the environment in sites where it takes place. It is, by definition, an unsustainable practice because it uses up resources that are non-renewable. This form of mining removes huge quantities of the earth’s surface to access low-quality minerals. Excavation equipment, conveyor belts, machinery and the use of new forms of fuel and distribution pipelines now make it possible to remove entire mountains in a question of hours, making it profitable to extract less than a gram of gold per ton of material removed. For these reasons, the most commonly accepted perspective among experts in sustainable development today is that no other industrial activity is as aggressive or damaging to the environment, society and culture as open-pit mining.
In the late 1970s, the government of Puerto Rico approved plans to create a mining complex that would impact large areas of the central region in municipalities such as Utuado, Jayuya, Adjuntas and Lares. The project represented a direct threat to more than 37,000 acres of forestland, bodies of water (rivers, streams, creeks, aquifers) and entire communities. The plans led to a citizen opposition that lasted more than 15 years and which ultimately won an important victory. It set a precedent for other similar initiatives to encourage sustainable development and protect natural resources.
As Executive Director of Casa Pueblo, Massol emerged from this struggle as a prominent figure. Casa Pueblo developed an initiative called the “People’s Forest.” It was the first co-management initiative for a forest resource between the government and a community group in the history of the island. Casa Pueblo, under Massol’s leadership, also led a grassroots community effort to promote sustainable development, fulfilling its goal of turning “protest into proposals” and promoting community empowerment. In recognition and reaffirmation of his leadership and the work of Casa Pueblo, both Massol González and Casa Pueblo were awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2004 in the Islands and Island Nations category.
Author: Harrison Flores Ortiz
Published: September 03, 2014.
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