Interviewees: (from left in photo) Elvín Maldonado, María-José Bonilla, and Juan Granados – All members of the Camamento Environmentalist Movement (CAM)
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Campamento, Olancho, Honduras
Date: Wed. 20th August 2010
Theme: Deforestation in Olancho, Honduras; threats to defenders of the forests
Martin Mowforth (MM): Could you give me an explanation of the difference between CAM and MAC, and your relationship with MAO and the region?
Juan Granados: We are the Campamento Environmental Movement. We had an alliance with the Olancho Environmental Movement (MAO) and with other organisations like the Catacamas Environmental Movement (MAC). I said that we had an alliance because it has not been maintained due to differences between the previous managers. They did not have the ability to manage some internal situations within the different movements. It created a small rivalry between the leaders and there was therefore a slight distance between them. But the new Board of Directors is trying to make new alliances with these other organisations, especially with Olancho, and if it’s possible, with organisations outside of Olancho, from other places at a national level, and also an international level if possible. We want to have an alliance with all of the organisations that are not environmental, such as organisations representing coffee producers, and with organisations of the same civil society that are on the list of organisations that there are in our municipality and in the country.
MM: Could you give me an idea of CAM’s mission?
Juan: Inclusive of what we have written. We are a civil society organisation. With our values and principles we advocate policy and peaceful resistance to defend natural resources and human rights. This is CAM’s mission.
MM: What are the problems in Campamento and around the town?
Juan: We have found that the biggest problems have been created through the economic interests of the people that take advantage of the natural resources, especially the forest. So, this was one of the issues that motivated us to found these organisations, like CAM.
MM: When was CAM founded?
Juan: Our organisation was founded in 2002. The other communities had already begun, although empirically and without support. They tried to look after the natural resources, especially the forest. The other communities have been fighting to defend natural resources for some 15 years. Owing to the merciless felling of the forests, we saw ourselves obligated to found an organisation to defend the natural resources and the peoples’ rights, because at the same time as the massive exploitation of the natural resources, the rights of the people that live in the local communities are being violated. It was because of this that we decided to organise an environmental movement.
The MAO already existed, under the direction of father Andrés Tamayo. As we indicated, we supported each other. Equally, we also received support from the Catholic church and from all of the other communities. With Andrés Tamayo, we marched from Olancho to Tegucigalpa, we walked and we were there on the trail for 6 and 8 days – we ate on the street. We did three marches for the life and the natural resources, in defence of the environment. So this was how we started off running CAM and later we continued, taking into account that we wanted to run an organisation that protects and defends natural resources and the human rights of the most displaced classes.
MM: And apart from the problem of the forests, do you have any other programmes? For example, recycling or waste treatment programmes?
Juan: We still do not have these types of programmes, because we don’t have the economic capacity nor the management to have projects like these that would have any benefit – because they would minimise the environmental impact of pollution, for example, in the basins, micro-basins and the environment in general. But we do have a vision to implement all types of mitigation to diminish the environmental pollution, so we are trying to make alliances with different organisations to see if we can all push in the same direction. We are trying to make alliances with local authorities. We are counterparts in projects, but with some limitations because we do not have money nor economic support. We are trying to see how we can make these contacts with other organisations. With some NGO’s that want to support us, we have a personal capacity to be able to manage projects in different communities, including at the level of Olancho. We are in a better position because we have complete freedom to do these types of projects in communities.
MM: Where do most of the organisations funds come from?
Juan: Some small projects generate some income which goes towards the continuing development of the environmental movement. Previously, we also had support from the (missing word) fund, but now we are making contacts again to see if we can continue with projects that we hope will be supported. Because the truth is that we are experiencing an institutional economic crisis, because we don’t have money for the upkeep of the office or goods for the organisation. We sometimes face important limitations. So we are going to see where we can find support, making some formalities and some contacts.
MM: In terms of ENCA, we are disposed to receive proposals for financing, but only in small quantities. I can receive them through ENCA’s email, but I alone cannot decide. It depends on ENCA’s committee. We have three meetings per year, every four months more or less. I already mentioned the human rights problems. Are there problems in terms of the abuse of human rights as a result of your work with CAM?
Juan: We have identified that some people in some places, in some communities, including here, within the same urban town, are found without the necessary public services, e.g. they don’t have the necessary diet, a dignified living space, they don’t have a job, or their income is very low, not enough to support their family. So I view these cases as not having the same rights as other people. We have seen that there is too great a difference between the social classes and things seem to be very unfair. When there is some support for the communities, especially the municipalities, it almost never reaches the people. Sometimes help is given to those who have less need, to those who have more necessities to be able to survive, and not to the most humble people. So you see how the rights of people to receive support and to have benefits are overridden by others who receive support even though they don’t need it as much.
Sometimes we see in the countryside that there are people that disrespect their property, they interfere with their properties, they extract resources, for example in this case of the forests, so the problems continue. They continue drying up water sources, then the temperatures increase as a product of global warming and all of these things, so we see it as an insult to the rights of the people. However, we are working on this with the people, raising their awareness and their skills so that they can understand some of the laws that grant them rights, such as the new environmental law. We are also trying to see how we can communicate the Water Law with the communities, because this is also a right that they have and in some cases it is being pushed aside. The formulation of the Water Law is trying to have influence and it has had influence, but it has not been understood by the people, and we want it to be.
Because of this, we are not very strong because everything moves through economics. We have the staff and the necessary equipment but we don´t have the resources to mobilise these things.
María-José Bonilla (MB): Recently I brought in support from CAM, I am the administration. There are already three victims dead, I think that this is a violation of human rights. Last May it was José Alberto. So they are found in these areas … but … and it is never seen, and nobody realises that most people can be exploited while … This law is very complicated, the authorities find themselves very limited, because the maderenos are … so to touch the system is … it would be threatening against the people that protest against them and this is a fight they want to win, but it is a little difficult.
MM: Is there evidence of a relationship between the maderenos and drug-traffickers?
Juan: We cannot be sure, but they have acquired too much power, I feel, because whichever crime by whoever the strongest group may be is not enough for them to be arrested, or the damage that they are doing to this country controlled. As my colleague said, there have been many deaths, and this leaves a lot of evidence that they are people that are accustomed to these types of crimes. When these types of crimes are seen to be committed by people who are involved in the struggle, it is believed that they could be a type of vehicle between the people involved in drug-trafficking and the timber companies. Because they react when their interests are threatened, and their operation is like this, violent, murders and stuff. This is the struggle that we have, in a few years already there are thirteen martyrs who died for the defence of natural resources. And before, there were others like Carlos Luna, Jeannette Kawas, Carlos Escaleras, and others. We have recorded some thirteen environmentalists murdered in our struggle and this is only in the Olancho area.
This is a dangerous place to lead the fight. When we attempt to touch these big, powerful interests, there is a huge difficulty because this is where the vast differences exist, and it seems that those that manage the laws always try to make things flexible in favour of the most powerful, which violates the rights of the majority, of the poor.
MM: This question is maybe a little reckless or rude, and if you do not want to answer then that is fine. What is the relationship between the current government and the resistance?
Juan: Well, the truth is that we feel that many of the governmental decisions, both nationally and locally, are not very beneficial to the large majority. I have said to you before that in these struggles of reform there have been some attempts from leaders to reform some Constitutional laws. I feel that it has not been as beneficial to them, so they try to supress, to uncover the people and to top it all they do it in a violent way. For us, the civil society, what happened in our country has been a coup d´état. We do not agree with the coup because it brings us many problems, there have also been many deaths during the resistances struggle to defend the interests of the large majority, many leaders have died. We do not agree with the acts of the authorities in this respect.
MB: CAM as an organisation, in terms of political questions, cannot … because the majority of the organisations members … because it is not possible for us to be environmentalists and we are not supporting the political parties nor the right-wing …. But as people, there are many of us on the directors board that are great leaders of the resistance and have supported the marches and everything. Also there have been many violations of human rights, and because of this we cannot be in favour of whoever caused them. The mission of a person that is an environmentalist …
MM: Do you want to add anything more about the development of this area or the problems that you have as an environmental NGO?
CAM’s lawyer, Elvín Maldonado enters the room.
Juan: Our aim is that they take into account the opinions of the large majority of the communities, that they are able to participate in large discussions, because our problem is that, because I don´t know whether in other countries they allow these things, but in our country, the poor people, from the countryside, are not allowed to participate nor make decisions in big national decisions. We see that we are excluded in the decision making by companies, important politicians and millionaires. We feel that they are people that are not going to make decisions that will be in favour of the large majorities. Sometimes they make decisions that favour us, but without the participation of the poor people, the lower class people.
We want the possibility of being taken into account by the leaders of the civil society, by organisations, because we have very civilised and well organised communities, but we don´t have the economic solvency to be able to work with more force or with more demonstrations.
We often have limitations, because we have to give money from our pockets to be able to mobilise ourselves, to buy fuel, to maintain some things, so we have these difficulties. If support existed from other organisations that took the same line or had the same values as us, we would like to participate with them and create a network with these organisations. So when we have problems in the future, that is to say, the vision would be different, it would not be the same as ours is now. It seems a good idea to me, and from what you have told us I think that if we are in agreement with what we both want, then we would like to stay in contact to see what you can do for us, and what we can do for you. We have the freedom but with this freedom we run the risk of losing our lives, because there has already been proof of many deaths. We are not bullet-proof, we are exposed, we do not walk around armed. We do not favour the powerful and important people in this country, in fact the opposite is true, so when we begin this type of struggle, generally it is the leader that risks the most. Rather, we think that if we had protection, so that we could have a little more security it would make a big difference, because we struggle as we do. When you or any other organisation representative wants to come to visit us, we will open our doors and be available to meet them and to support them.
Elvín Maldonado (EM): … part of your job is to complete these types of works, but as we forget in these countries, according to the mayors, the local governments have limitations. To us these opportunities come, and we are making the most of them. We informed the Forest Law, the wildlife and protected areas laws were passed some time before. We actively participated in this movement. Most recently, we also informed the Water Law, and they have passed the law already. We need the internal rules, we need, as an organisation, to read and understand this law so that the Honduran town can know what this law means, because at present in Honduras there is an escalation in the sale of water sources, and privatisation. There is a boom in clean energy, but this will come to an end, or, it seems that this kind law will create small hydroelectric plants to sell us energy, but these are agreements for 30 or 50 years. Then will come the privatisation of water. I believe that now is a crucial time for us, we need the help of organisations, because we have much to do here but few resources.
We thank you for your visit, we hope that it will not be the last time that we see you. We are here with open doors, you only have to call us and we will help you to see how we live, what we have done and what there is still to do. In terms of the environment there are barbarous actions that have to be taken and we are going to do what we can with our economic limitations. We need a range of contributions to help us, we are weak organisations, this we know and we will give you information to see what we can do. We thank you for coming all the way from London. We have already met with journalists from England, more people have come here. The truth is that we only receive judgement from the United States, this is what dominates here. The other day we were sent an email, which informed us that the State Department is giving the green light to the Senate, I don´t know to who, to give economic help to the timber companies in Honduras. This means felling of the forests. We dislike the double-speak, because on one hand they tell us that they will protect us, and on the other hand, they say that they will fell the forest. We are powerless in this respect, we have nothing more to defend ourselves than the little that we have here, but maybe we will end up crushing them. So we need international alliances, who are turned on enough to help us, because maybe their things are stronger.
Juan: This is the 90 year old woman who walked to Tegucigalpa three times. Doña Catalina.
EM: We have run walks of 240 km in protest.
(Interview cut short by failure of battery in recorder.)