Alexander Soros says environmental activists should be considered ‘great heroes’

November 17, 2014

ALEXSOROSAlexander Soros, the son of legendary investor George Soros, said the death of a Peruvian environmental activist fighting to save the Amazon rainforest moved him to act.

On Monday in a New York City ceremony, the Alexander Soros Foundation will be honoring Edwin Chota, a Peruvian activist who campaigned against illegal logging in the Amazon, along with three of his colleagues, who were shot and killed in a remote corner of the rainforest in the Peruvian region of Ucayali.

Soros’ environmental and human rights activism comes as the United Nations Climate Change Conference takes place in Peru next month. Soros, 29, told Reuters in a telephone interview that his father, who founded the Open Society Foundations which supports democracy and human rights in more than 100 countries, inspired him to get involved with such issues.

“Nobody is really looking at environmental defenders as great heroes,” the young Soros said. “People who defend their environments are, often times, vilified because they are seen as crazy, anti-technology people. It is important that we show that these types of activists exist and they are risking life and limb.”

Soros, an advisory board member and major donor of activist group Global Witness, notes a recently released report by the group, which shows Peru ranking fourth in the world for murders of environmental activists with 57 activists in the country killed from 2002 to 2013.

Patrick Alley, co-founder of Global Witness, said: “The pressure on the environment, not just in Peru obviously but globally, is increasing as people are acquiring land, mining and logging concessions. And there is just not enough protection or rights given to the people who depend on these lands.”

For Peru’s part, more than half the country is still covered by rainforest, but those forests are being cut down at an ever-faster rate to satisfy voracious international demand for timber and related products, Soros said.

“The deaths of environmental activists like Chota are not the result of obscure disputes in wild, faraway places,” Soros writes in an op-ed on Monday for The Guardian. “They are a direct consequence of the developed world’s unrelenting demand for products like hardwood, palm oil,rubber, natural gas, and beef, and of poor regulation in the markets that supply them.”

As of July 2014, Forbes listed Soros, 84, as the 27th richest person in the world and no. 7 on its list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, with a net worth estimated at $23 billion.

The elder Soros once wrote about his take on philanthropy and activism: “My success in the financial markets has given me a greater degree of independence than most other people. This allows me to take a stand on controversial issues: In fact, it obliges me to do so because others cannot.”

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