The Environmental Investigation Agency, a nonprofit watchdog, said demand in the United States and other developed nations fuels an illegal timber trade in the heavily forested Central American nation, abetted by corrupt local officials.
“The people of Honduras can`t save the forests if we will in effect receive stolen timber,” Allan Thornton, president of the organization, said by telephone from Washington after releasing the report.
“There is massive illegal logging going on and the primary motivation is to export to the US market,” he said.
The 50-page report, backed by the Washington-based Center for International Policy, urges the United States, the European Union and other nations to ban imports of illegal timber.
Without such import controls, wood that is cut illegally ends up unwittingly in the hands of major retailers such as Home Depot Inc. The deals are brokered by Honduran businesses acting as middlemen and often using bribes and political favors, according to the report.
Honduran officials say they are taking steps to combat illegal logging with stricter regulations and forest management plans, but a lack of resources and personnel leaves gaps.
“Trying to resolve this problem is like trying to put a fire fighting brigade at every hot spot to fight forest fires,” said Luis Eveline, head of the Honduran forestry development agency. “It`s very serious and involves a series of factors and authorities.”
Anti-logging activists including Jose Andres Tamayo, a rural priest who this year won the prestigious international Goldman environmental award, face intimidation by logging interests and death threats, Thornton said.
In August, troops appeared in rural Salama where Tamayo is based and faced off with environmental activists outside his church, said Thornton, who visited Honduras.
Among the poorest nations in the hemisphere, Honduras is slated to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign debt forgiveness and other aid.
But Thornton said the United States and European donors should link such aid to the protection of civil activists and better environmental regulation, as illegal logging drains poor agricultural communities and feeds public corruption.
HONDURAS: October 4, 2005
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE.