Thursday, September 24, 2009

Walking with Zelaya: Padre Andres Tamayo

Events in Honduras are changing by the hour. As I am writing this, dialogue has started again with various representatives of different sectors approaching President Zelaya where he has sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Among Zelaya's visitors was the auxilliary bishop of Tegucigalpa, Mons. Juan José Pineda. The United Nations Security Council has scheduled a session on the crisis tomorrow morning.

But we cover the crisis from a church perspective and to us, the interesting person is not Zelaya but someone who is holed up in the Brazilian embassy with him: Fr. Andrés Tamayo. Fr. Tamayo celebrated Mass with the president and his supporters this morning at the embassy, but mostly he has been enduring the same conditions as everyone else. Tamayo gave a brief interview yesterday to the Argentinian Critica Digital.

According to Tamayo, life inside the Brazilian headquarters in Tegucigalpa is ever more difficult. The number of visitors increased dramatically Tuesday morning after the Honduran police and military dispersed hundreds of Zelaya supporters congregated around the building with tear gas. "At the moment there are some 70 people living in here and that's too many for this place," Tamayo said. According to him, the people are lying down on the floor and "are half asleep, half awake, always on the alert." President Zelaya, "has settled in an office where he can rest in an armchair."

Are you thinking of reducing the number of occupants in the embassy?

We have already done this. We put all of the children out, because the building can't hold many people. They cut the electricity and the other problem is that it was difficult for us to bring them food, and the people were hungry.

How much food do you have?

A little while ago the Red Cross was able to send in some food. We will see what we can do to hold up. There is a curfew here and it is hard to get supplies.

Are you afraid that the military will come into the building?

There are lots of threats. On Monday they said they would stop us at one in the morning and they came at five. Micheletti says that he is not going to invade the embassy but it is being surrounded by more and more military units. They have lost their minds and nothing matters to them, not even the law. A little while ago, they came from the courts to read the case against President Zelaya.

Father Tamayo, a Franciscan priest, was born in El Salvador but left his native land during that country's civil war. In Honduras, he was ordained in 1984 in Juticalpa and also became a naturalized Honduran citizen. Earlier this month, the coup government stripped Tamayo of his citizenship and initiated legal proceedings that may result in his expulsion from the country. The priest was also removed from his parish in Salama in the Diocese of Orlancho. In an interview, with Tiempo, Monsignor Luis Alfonso Santos of the Diocese of Copan indicated that if Fr. Tamayo were to request an assignment in his diocese, the matter would be taken into consideration as each bishop in Honduras is autonomous. The bishop reiterated that Pope Benedict XVI is against the coup d'état and for the people, based on the principles of the Catholic Church.

A group of priests in Copan has just issued a new statement about the crisis that included some words of support for Fr. Tamayo: "As ordained priests, we are in solidarity with our brother in the priesthood, Father Andrés Tamayo, defender of our forests and prophet of these times, demanding that the Catholic Church should not aid the economically rich group but the poor."

Environmental Activist

Prior to his involvement with the struggle to restore President Zelaya to power, Father Andrés Tamayo was a leader in the struggle for environmental justice in Honduras. He directed the Environmental Movement of Olancho (MAO), a coalition of subsistence farmers and community and religious leaders who are defending their lands against uncontrolled commercial logging. Together they continue to exert heavy pressure on the Honduran government to reform its national forest policy.

The Department of Olancho, Honduras's largest and most biologically diverse region, hosts a wide variety of forest eco-systems, including mountaintop cloud forests, rare old-growth pine forests and lowland tropical rainforests. But unregulated logging had already taken more than half of Olancho's 12 million acres of forest. Erosion was widespread, water levels were dangerously low and natural springs had dried up completely. One community had to dig 120 wells before hitting water.

Not willing to stay silent as he witnessed the effects of clear-cutting and water shortages, Tamayo mobilized local residents and drew the government's attention to Olancho's urgent environmental issues. In 2003, he led a regional campaign that stopped the development of a major highway that would have increased access to forests for new sawmills. Later that year, Tamayo led the "March for Life," a 3,000-person, 120-mile, weeklong march to the nation's capital. It brought the environmental debate to the national stage and inspired other rural communities to organize against illegal logging. One month later, the Honduran president agreed to meet with Tamayo. In recognition of his efforts, he was awarded the 2003 Honduras National Human Rights Award.

In June 2004, more than 5,000 people joined a second "March for Life," drawing attention to alleged corruption in the government's National Forestry Agency. The March led to a government investigation, prompting the resignation of the agency's General Manager.

His environmental activism earned Father Tamayo the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2005. That same year, Father Tamayo gave a detailed interview with Michelle Nijhuis, a freelance journalist from Colorado. Nijhuis asked Fr. Tamayo about the harassment and death threats that had dogged him. His answer may give us some insight into the man who is walking at Zelaya's side today: "My courage emerges from my own consciousness. Death threats don't perplex me -- I don't waste my time thinking about death. I work in defense of life, for the fulfillment of the gospel, and I work to be faithful to God and the people."

Photos: President Zelaya meets Bishop Juan José Pineda; Celebrating Mass in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa; Fr. Tamayo as environmental activist

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the article and the translation of the interview. Father Tamayo is a diocesan priest.

    Father Tamayo was offered a parish in the Santa Rosa Diocese but he has said that at this time he will be accompanying the Resistance.

    The report about the pope condemning the coup is based on a misunderstanding of what Bishop Santos said at a Mass in Intibucá at the end of a march of the anti-coup Resistance. He mentioned that the pope is in favor of the Honduran people but that he did not say that he was in favor of the coup. The bishop was trying to distance the pope from claims that the Pope supported the coup since the cardinal seems to be in support of the coup.