HONDURAS: Lumberjacks down mahogany timber despite moratorium

The people of Palacios wonder why laws exist if no one follows them


People in the La Mosquitia village of Palacios are worried about recent logging activity on the Paulaya River. Palacios is the starting point for many tourists visiting the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve. Located in a biosphere buffer zone, there has been a moratorium on the cutting of mahogany there for the last three years. Locals are alarmed that, for the second time in a month, workers have floated 30,000 board feet of mahogany logs down the Paulaya and Tinto rivers to Palacios. They claim this lumber comes from the nuclear zone of the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve.

If the logs had been taken out illegally, the police in Palacios could have confiscated them. However, community leaders say the Honduran Forest Development Corporation (COHDEFOR) has issued a 5-year permit to an individual from San Juan Pueblo to cut mahogany in the zone. Locals are angry and confused because it had been understood that the mahogany was untouchable. They wonder why anyone has been allowed to cut 30,000 board feet every two weeks.

A Miskito community leader says the mahogany logging is leaving certain hillsides bald. The people are angry in part because Honduras has received substantial international aid to protect the Biosphere. They say it is unfair for the actions of a single person to threaten the protection of the biosphere, an area on which many people depend for their survival.

But not all of the news on the Rio Platano is bad. The Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, the Peace Corps, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Park Service and Honduran tour operators met with Miskito and Pech residents of Las Marias to discuss how to work with tourists.

This is part of a program to ensure that local people benefit from tourism and that tourists have an enjoyable experience. Jorge Salaverri of Mosquitia Ecoaventuras says guides will soon be licensed in the area.

Currently, much of the Mosquitia is difficult to reach, even by airplane. The Miskitos of Ahuas and other communities staged a strike to protest the rising airfares that have increased the cost of gasoline, spare parts and other products in La Mosquitia.

La Mosquitia towns like Puerto Lempira, Brus Laguna, Ahuas and Palacios are served by Sosa, Isleņa and, until recently, Rollins Airlines. Only the SAMI charter service travels beyond Palacios.

If you are going to the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, however, travel is easier. In fact, Palacios is
more accessible than ever now that daily flights are available from Trujillo and La Ceiba. In addition, once you arrive in Palacios it is no longer necessary to walk to the mouth of the Platano River. Now, a canal links Palacios right to the river and boatmen pick up passengers right at the airport. The new hotel next to the Palacios airstrip is mostly for people waiting to catch the flight out in the morning.

However, if you are planning to visit the Tawahka Biosphere or other places on the Patuca, gasoline shortages for motorboats continue to plague the area. With no flights and no gasoline for boats, tourists who are on a tight schedule will probably have to miss this area.

Many tourists ask whether it's possible to take a boat from La Ceiba to La Mosquitia. It was once very common for local boats to carry passengers between the two destinations, but new drug trafficking concerns have practically eliminated this practice. The drug trade has also prompted police to check bags at the Palacios airstrip in search of drugs or contraband animal products like turtles, being smuggled out of the reserve.

Although locals appreciate the effort, they also see the irony of the situation and wonder why officials will delay a tourist flight for an hour to keep someone from smuggling out the shells of three turtles someone else ate while others, like lumber companies and lobster boat owners, are allowed to take whatever they want without regard to deforestation and endangered species.

Source: February, 1998 EarthCulture,e-mail: earthcul@nr.infi.net
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