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NCC's Edgar, Kireopoulos Travel to Honduras to Support Effort Against Illegal Logging
July 9, 2004, NEW YORK CITY - Two top staff of the National Council of Churches USA were part of a delegation of prominent U.S. citizens that accompanied a recent “March for Life” against illegal logging and related corruption in Honduras and helped win a meeting between Father Andrés Tamayo, who organized the march, and Honduran President Ricardo Maduro.
The Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, NCC General Secretary, and Dr. Tony Kireopoulos, Associate General Secretary for International Affairs and Peace, spent June 30-July 2 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, as part of the 10-member delegation organized by the Center for International Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. (Web site: www.ciponline.org)
Other delegation members included American University Chaplain Joseph Eldridge, chair of the Washington Office on Latin America; Allen Andersson, prominent businessman and former Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras; actor and human rights activist Mike Farrell (pictured, right, with NCC General Secretary Edgar); Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former lieutenant governor of Maryland, and Ambassador Robert E. White, President of the Center for International Policy, who led the delegation.
“It’s a good role for the NCC to join with organizations like the Center for International Policy that are working from a secular point of view on justice issues,” Dr. Edgar said. “We brought a pastoral word of concern. We spoke alongside actors, politicians and ambassadors, raising the moral issues.”
Drs. Edgar and Kireopoulos also met with staff of the ecumenical Christian Commission on Development (CCD) and with a larger group of Honduran church leaders and members to discuss issues related to the U.S. delegation’s visit, including poverty, the environment and civic participation. (Pictured, below left: Edgar; CCD Director Noemi Espinosa; Kireopoulos, and Eldridge.)
The focus of the “March for Life” was Olancho, Honduras’ largest department and home to a unique range of ecoystems. This area slightly larger than New Hampshire is one of the most environmentally threatened in the Americas. Uncontrolled logging has devastated the department’s forests, poisoned groundwater and caused water table levels to drop. While an elite few profit from the illegal logging, communities repeatedly are displaced in search of arable land, further deepening Honduras’ already extensive poverty.
The Center for International Policy is working with the Environmental Movement of Olancho, which Father Tamayo leads, and the Committee of the Families of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras to protect Honduran forests and to take on the systemic corruption allowing the illegal ravaging to continue. Between 75 and 85 percent of hardwood (including premium-priced mahogany) and up to 50 percent of pine is illegally harvested, an estimated total of between $55 and $70 million a year.
The 2004 “March for Life” started at four different points around Honduras and converged in the capital city of Tegucigalpa on June 30. The thousands of marchers brought to the government their demands aimed at stopping illegal logging by involving communities in the management of local timber reserves.
U.S. delegation members met with the marchers and other human rights and environmental justice leaders, including Father Tamayo. He “clearly cares for his people and sees environmental degradation as an attack on the poor and on creation,” commented Dr. Kireopoulos. “This issue is of pre-eminent importance to the poor, who depend so much on the land and who are most at risk and have suffered the most.”
Addressing the marchers on behalf of the NCC, Dr. Kireopoulos declared that “the dignity of the human being, the rights of every person, the well-being of all people, and the environment are integrally linked, in the Christian faith and in all faiths. It is an honor to be with you to affirm this truth and to support you in your search for justice.” (Pictured, left: Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) addresses the crowd.)
In meetings, the U.S. delegation urged the Honduran President and Secretary of State “to take this situation seriously and to meet with Father Tamayo. “We indicated that the future of Honduras from a point of view of justice and legality and even business interests depends greatly on solving this issue,” Dr. Kireopoulos said. The meeting with the President lasted an hour. (Pictured, right: White, Kireopoulos, Edgar, Andersson, Maduro, Hinchey, Eldridge.)
Because of the international attention that was given to the delegation, the President agreed to meet with Father Tamayo. That meeting took place the next day - especially significant since, following the first “March for Life” in June 2003, a delegation led by Father Tamayo was turned away from the Presidential Palace by a small army of anti-riot police, armed with rubber truncheons, protective helmets and metal shields.
Honduran conservationists and human rights activists are at grave risk of intimidation and even murder at the hands of those who sack the forests and despoil the environment. In the past few years, three Olancho environmentalists have met violent deaths and others, including Father Tamayo, are under constant threat.
“I think our presence helped secure the life of Father Tamayo,” said Joseph Eldridge of American University/Washington Office on Latin America, “and it certainly caught the attention of the President of the country and government elites.
“The NCC’s presence also was a boost to the religious and other non-governmental organizations who are trying to hold the government accountable.” Given its dependence on foreign investment, Honduras is very sensitive about its international reputation, Eldridge said, and thus responsive to international pressure.
Besides the sort of solidarity action just completed, Eldridge said, “We need to make the consuming public aware of conditions in which the pine and hardwood is harvested. There’s a movement to label wood forest products and raise the level of the consuming public on where these materials come from.”
NCC Media Contact: Carol Fouke, 212-870-2252; firstname.lastname@example.org
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