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Despite Threats, Spanish Forest Activist Says He’ll Continue His Work

Ida às urnas em Kololo, subúrbio de Kampala no Uganda
Ida às urnas em Kololo, subúrbio de Kampala no Uganda

An outspoken environmental activists says he will continue to fight for Cambodia’s forest in Koh Kong’s Areng valley, despite his brief detention and threats from authorities to expel him from the country.

Alex Gonzalez, a Spanish forest activist and founder of the group Mother Nature, was briefly detained on Monday along with 10 local activists while they were manning a roadblock to prevent authorities and Chinese hydrodam developers from entering the area.

“Deforestation is serious globally,” Gonzalez told VOA Khmer after his release. “Therefore, I sacrifice everything, including my life, to protect the remaining forest in Cambodia.”

Sinohydro (Cambodia) United plans to build the 108-megawatt Stung Cheay Areng dam, but local residents from the Chorng eithnic group have strongly opposed the project, which will flood some 20,000 hectares of the Areng valley. They have blocked access to the area since March this year.

Local activists and Gonzalez were asked to sign a pledge not to take more action to block the area in exchange for their release, but rights group say this will have negative impacts on their efforts to protect the forest.

“Detaining them to make a pledge is a form of intimidation that prevents them from holding more protests,” said Neang Boratino, Adhoc human rights monitor in Koh Kong province.

Conservation International and Flora and Fauna International have also voiced their concerns over the dam.

Gonzalez said authorities should consider helping local villagers increase their products instead of bringing in a hydroelectricity project that will bring more negative impacts on the forest resources.

“If they want to develop Areng valley, they should focus on the tourism and agricultural sectors, to enable villagers to supply their products to Phnom Penh,” said Alex Gonzalez.

Gonzalez expects the worst to happen to him and other forest activists. But he is optimistic that eventually villagers will win. “I’m 100 percent confident that we will be successful, because when they threaten and imprison us, the issue will bring out more awareness, and more activists will join us,” he said.