Rosa Hilda Ramos.

Rosa Hilda Ramos.

Puerto Rican environmental activist awarded with the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2008.

Rosa Hilda Ramos is a homemaker who founded a community-based organization called Communities United Against Pollution (CUCCo for its Spanish acronym) in Cataño, a small industrial municipality adjacent to the capital of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The organization’s efforts have played an important role in the environmental movement in Puerto Rico, as well as the struggles by communities that want to achieve and preserve a dignified and healthy way of life. These efforts have been vital for reinforcing empowerment and rights against the government and other powerful socio-economic interests.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Cataño had the highest rates of cancer and respiratory illness on the island. When Ramos moved with her family to an upper-class neighborhood in the municipality, she soon realized that many families in the area had members with these illnesses. To a large degree, the phenomenon was related to the concentration of high-impact industrial facilities in the municipality. There was an electric generating plant owned by the Electric Energy Authority (AEE for its Spanish acronym), the Bacardi rum distillery, the main warehouses for the metropolitan area free trade zone and the Caribbean Petroleum Company (CaPeCo) oil refinery, among others.

Ramos, leading her community organization, went to court against the AEE, a powerful governmental entity that was identified as the main polluter, specifically its Palo Seco generating plant in Cataño. The court ordered the AEE to significantly reduce the plant’s toxic emissions. After that important victory, Ramos and CUCCo used the money from the fines paid by AEE to get the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to acquire the Las Cucharillas Swamp, located in the same area, to protect it permanently. This swamp is one of the last open natural spaces in the area and one of the largestwetlands ecosystems in the region. It is an important and integral part of the San Juan Bay Estuary, which provides habitat for a wide variety of aquatic birds and other marine life. It is the only tropical estuary registered and protected by the U.S. National Estuary Program.

For her leadership, hard work and perseverance on behalf of the environment and social justice for the affected communities, Ramos and CUCCo were awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2008 in the Islands and Island Nations category. Ramos became the first Puerto Rican woman and second Puerto Rican to receive this prestigious award.

 

Author: Harrison Flores Ortiz
Published: September 03, 2014.

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