| May 6, 2005
Honduran priest cites dangers of
By AGOSTINO BONO
Catholic News Service
Massive logging operations in Honduras are destroying the environment
with little of the wealth generated going for local development for the
country’s rural poor, said Fr. José Tamayo Córtez, an environmental
activist in the Honduran province of Olancho.
About 85 percent of the logging is illegal, corruption is widespread
and the government does not have the political will to enforce
environmental protection laws, Tamayo said during a visit to Washington
to talk with U.S. church and governmental officials about the situation.
In the past 30 years, two-thirds of the forests in Olancho have been
destroyed, he said at an April 21 briefing for officials of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Olancho is the largest province in Honduras. Environmentalists have
complained that massive logging has ruined the province’s once fertile
farmland as it has lowered the water table and increased soil erosion.
“Olancho was once the breadbasket of Central America. Now it does not
even produce enough grain for the province,” said Tamayo. This is
forcing people’s migration to urban areas and eventually their
clandestine immigration into the United States, he said.
Tamayo said he is asking foreign countries that provide aid to
Honduras to give such aid on the condition the government put in place
anticorruption programs and enforce environmental protection laws.
Without safeguards, aid money will not benefit the poor, he said. He
also favors blocking U.S. imports of Honduran lumber and wood products
until the Honduran government agrees to improve the logging situation.
Tamayo is a priest of the Juticalpa diocese, which covers most of
Olancho. He is also the moving force behind the Environmental Movement
of Olancho, a coalition of subsistence farmers and religious leaders
opposed to uncontrolled commercial logging.
In San Francisco April 18, the Honduran priest was awarded the 2005
Goldman Environmental Prize for his grass-roots work. The prize includes
a $125,000 award.
In 2003 and 2004, Tamayo led protest marches to the Honduran capital
of Tegucigalpa to spotlight illegal logging activities.
While in Washington, Tamayo said that Honduran church leaders are
slowly coming to understand the problem. Boston-born Bishop Tomas
Muldoon of Juticalpa is cautious in his support because of fear that too
much activism will provoke violence against environmentalists, said
In July 2003 Carlos Reyes, a staff member of the diocesan
environmental ministry, was killed after a series of death threats
against environmentalists. A few weeks later Muldoon temporarily
suspended the work of 40 lay social ministry workers because of death
National Catholic Reporter, May 6,