Father Andres Tamayo now gets company as he drives the church pickup truck around his rugged rural parish here in the frontier region of Olancho–four soldiers in battle dress sit in the back to protect him from being murdered. Father Andres is part of a grassroots environmental movement that’s trying to stop criminal deforestation, and the local timber barons have already killed some of his friends. The environmentalists cannot trust the local police, so they, and their allies overseas, pressured the national government into assigning the young soldiers.
A couple of the soldiers are also posted on the front steps of the tidy, whitewashed church. Father Andres is in his mid-40s, short, with a firm, clear voice. Inside the simple parish hall, I asked him if he was afraid to die. He paused slightly. “I know that one day death could come for me,” he said. “But that fact does not cause stress, or fear, or the desire to flee. I believe that I have to speak the truth up to the last moment. I need to remember that I’m defending the people. The people themselves give me courage. My conviction, which is shared by the people, and shared by God, gives me courage.”
Luckily, there is a new source of help for Father Andres and his friends in the Olancho Environmental Movement, and for brave environmentalists all around the world who risk their lives on the front lines in the fight to protect the forests. A bipartisan alliance in the US Congress, supported by an unusually broad range of environmental organizations, is pushing for legislation that will for the first time enact penalties for importing wood and wood products that have been illegally cut down. The bill is called the Legal Timber Protection Act in the House, the Combat Illegal Logging Act in the Senate.
Alexander von Bismarck, executive director of the Environmental Investigation Agency in Washington, DC, explained in mid-November that the alliance had just successfully rebuffed efforts in a House subcommittee to gut the legislation, but he emphasized that continued public support is critical. Besides the EIA, the alliance includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and the United Steelworkers Union, as well as members of Congress from both parties.