Father Jose Andres Tamayo Cortez in the mountans of Salamá Olancho, Honduras. Goldman Environmental Prize.

Environmental justice hero: Father José Andrés Tamayo Cortez

Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental activist and hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can coexist in harmony.

Father Tamayo mobilized the masses to protest the illegal logging of the Department of Olancho.

The Olancho Department is the largest biologically diverse region in Honduras hosting a variety of ecosystems, including rare, old-growth pine forests and lowland tropical rainforests. In addition to more than 500 types of birds and copious amounts of animal and plant species, it has an estimated human population of 537,300 inhabitants that rely on the rich resources in the Olancho for their sustenance and survival. 

For decades, the Olancho has been the victim of unregulated illegal loggers who cut down trees for the sake of commercial agriculture, where corporations hoard all the resources and money, leaving nothing for the farmers or families. Although Honduras does allow for 1.2 million cubic meters of lumber to be cut down per year, unregulated logging is obliterating much of the region’s water supply, where inhabitants have to walk miles just to get water. The reality is that they were illegally cutting over 60% of this limit. Olancho, which was once a thriving forest, was turning to dust. 

Clear-cutting near Salamá, Honduras. Goldman Environmental Prize.

Father José Andrés Tamayo Cortez is a priest who celebrates life rather than celebrates mass. When he had a calling to ‘express or describe the things that are going on right now in this world’, he started a grassroots organization that included families, farmers, youths and teachers. They came together to protest against the illegal loggers and created an army of environmental activists. In 2003, he led the “March for Life” where he mobilized three thousand people in a 120-mile, week-long march to the nation’s capital, getting the government's attention and putting a spotlight on the idea of environmental debate throughout Honduras. This subsequently influenced other communities to do the same, which led to the Honduran president meeting with Father Tamayo to discuss new policies that would help local communities gain profit from the resources they own. A year later, the march increased to five thousand and focused on the corruption of Honduras’ National Forestry Agency, leading to the resignation of the agency’s General Manager. In addition to this, in 2009 it was reported that 80% of illegal logging had stopped.

 Being the face of the community has not come at a small price. Enormous bounties have been put on his Father Tamayo’s life because the corrupt leaders feel threatened by his power to motivate the public. But this does not intimidate Father Tamayo who is courageous in the face of harassment, slander and threats. He has a strong conviction that you cannot improve the lives of the people when you strip them of everything they own and that no one should threaten the value of life. He believes we need to unify so that more strategies are created and we demand the fulfillment of international environmental agreements. It must be everyone’s commitment to defend the only house the world has—Mother Earth.