Puerto Rico's Other Shining Star: Environmental Hero Luis Jorge Rivera

Fights with greed can be exhausting. Just ask Luis Jorge Rivera, who's been fighting the corporate and government greed for more than 16 years and defending the natural heritage of all Puerto Ricans.

But Luis Jorge likes to win; so much so, in fact, he has turned it into a habit. Him and his fellow fighters.

"Our biggest strength is the awareness of the overwhelming majority of the Puerto Rican people about the value of protecting our natural heritage," says Luis Jorge, an environmental activist and scientist.

Perhaps, his biggest achievement has been, along with a coalition of other dedicated activists, helping mobilize the vast majority of Puerto Ricans to preserve the brightest corner on the Star of the Caribbean, the Northeast Ecological Corridor.

It all started in 1999, when hotel giants such as Four Seasons and Marriott International requested permits to build several megaresorts in this pristine part of the island's coast. This is the habitat of more than 50 either rare or endangered species, and one of the second most important nesting ground in the US for the world's largest sea turtle, the leatherback.

The ensuing fight was marked by victories and defeats, two steps forward, one backward. In 2008, he and the Coalition for the Northeast Ecological Corridor scored the executive designation of the Corridor as a protected natural reserve. And in 2012, with the overwhelming support of the Puerto Rican people, Luis Jorge and his merry band of activists achieved their most crucial victory --the island's Assembly approved the permanent protection of the Corridor.

And a few weeks ago, after 16 years of tireless struggle and five often hostile administrations, Jorge Luis received the Goldman Prize, considered the Green Nobel. The personal price he paid for it, however, was high.

"Professionally, they often tried to intimidate me," he recalls. "They tried to bribe my two brothers. The government canceled contracts it had with friends of mine. The developers published full-page ads in newspapers mocking me and my work."

But the fight goes on. Puerto Rico is in the midst of the worst financial crisis in its recent history. The public debt has hit $70 billion. The government seems incapable of meeting its debt obligations. And basic public services have been drastically cut. How much is the crisis affecting the protection of public lands?

"A whole lot," says Luis Jorge. "A public agency, the Industrial Development Company, issued bonds, and as collateral it used public lands, including the Corridor, which means that this public entity could be forced to sell those lands to fulfill its financial obligations."

Moreover, the US Congress is considering bill HR 4900, which would establish emergency measures, such as imposing a fiscal control commission on the Puerto Rican people that would have wide powers over both the governor and the Assembly.

HR 4900 basically draws from the same undemocratic principles that allowed Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to select the city manager who approved the calamitous decision for the City of Flint to switch its water supply from a clean source to a toxic one.

"If it is approved, this law would swiftly nullify the law that protects the Corridor and all the other environmental protection laws in Puerto Rico," warns Luis Jorge.

The future of Puerto Rico's natural heritage is at stake. Good thing Jorge Luis already knows how to defeat greed.