Latin America is home to some of the world’s greatest environmental treasures. As the “lungs of the planet,” tropical forests in 23 Latin American nations sustain human populations everywhere. Natural resources extracted in Latin America provide raw materials, food, and energy that support contemporary lifestyles.
As globalization took hold, Latin America experienced an expansion of industrial activities that governments welcomed as agents of development. Mines, dams, other energy infrastructure, tourist resorts, and more were built without adequate protections for the environment or for communities — especially indigenous and other disempowered communities.
Affected people were fighting urgently to protect their territories and their right to a healthy environment. To help them, dedicated advocates and environmental organizations took on the joined forces of industry and government. Working with scarce resources, the organizations focused primarily on national efforts.
Some of these organizations realized they could not rely on domestic legal systems alone to prevent or limit harms caused by a globalized economy. They had to begin using international law, advocating at international institutions, and collaborating across borders to generate regional results and promote shared goals.
In 1998, to fill a gap in expertise with respect to international law and advocacy, environmental law groups from Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru and the United States founded an independent organization — AIDA — to build and extend the capacity of national advocates. AIDA’s founders were Centro de Derecho Ambiental y de los Recursos Naturales (Cedarena, Costa Rica), Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA, Mexico), Earthjustice (USA), Fundepublico (Colombia), and Sociedad Peruana de Derecho Ambiental (SPDA, Peru).
Soon organizations and movements from throughout Latin America began asking AIDA to provide legal assistance in environmental and related human rights matters. As government and international institutions became familiar with AIDA’s attorneys and gained trust in their expertise, they, too, requested AIDA’s legal support.
Today, AIDA bridges the gaps between communities, local movements, national organizations, governments, and international authorities.