In Service of the Environment
By Dialogo January 01, 2011I am surprised that 117 people said they don't like this article. They are probably the people who benefits from the corruption that is destroying Honduras. We should support DECOH and General Walter Lopez' ideals, he is a Honduran a legend and a hero who in many occasions risked his life to protect Honduras and its people.
The mountainous interior of Honduras is home to what was one of Central America’s largest virgin forests, but irresponsible logging and drug traffickers’ activities are threatening the pristine environment. To protect such resources, three former military personnel formed a nongovernmental organization, or NGO, to help manage the enormous task of caring for Honduran territory. Among them is the former head of the Armed Forces who was once vice president of Honduras, Gen. Walter López Reyes.
In 2010, 12 years after having left public life, López Reyes decided to confront what he considers the greatest challenge of his life: founding and serving as president of Honduran Community Development, or DECOH. “Even after having raised four children, having been head of the Armed Forces and vice president of my country, it seems very difficult to me to start a project practically from scratch, without resources, and when I’m now over 70 years old,” the general explained.
To understand why he made this decision, it is necessary to know a little of his history. At the tender age of seven, he would bring food his mother prepared to his father, Francisco López Barahona, who suffered a year of imprisonment during the dictatorship of Tiburcio Carías Andino (1932-49). This strengthened their bond and later, during his teenage years, his father took him along to his post as Honduran consul in San Francisco, California.
After two years in the United States, the future Gen. López Reyes graduated from high school in Tegucigalpa and enrolled in the Capt. Raúl Roberto Barahona Military Aviation School. He was selected for the U.S. military aviation school at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and remained in the country from 1960 to 1962, during which he also spent time at military schools in the states of Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
While he was still an Air Force second lieutenant, the young López Reyes witnessed the rise of his uncle, Gen. Oswaldo López Arellano, to the presidency of Honduras in 1963. “I always had a deep love for Honduras, and when I saw that my uncle was president, that inspired me to do something for my people,” the general commented.
On that occasion, he could not imagine that years later he would have the opportunity to fulfill his desire. In 1984, then a brigadier general in the Honduran Air Force, he was named head of the Armed Forces, a title with which he inherited the challenge of confronting the Sandinistas, a Nicaraguan leftist group spreading into Honduras.
In 1988, Gen. López Reyes retired. When President Carlos Roberto Reina took office in 1994, López Reyes was invited to be a presidential designate (vice president), an office through which he supported the demilitarization of Honduran society, promoting civilian control of the police rather than the Armed Forces. In 1998 he retired from public office.
However, retirement did not suit the general, who was accustomed to the active life of military command. His experience led him to become an advisor on military affairs. Issues such as national security and sovereignty became constant themes in his meetings with members of the government, but there was also a growing concern for the environment.
Gen. López Reyes realized that resources to care for the 17 protected areas and 31 cloud forests covering about 90,000 hectares of the country’s surface were limited. This prompted him to create DECOH to coordinate and carry out ecosystem protection and social assistance projects.
The NGO is committed to detecting environmental degradation at the national level through the use of aircraft and other equipment. “Being former military, and in particular, former pilots for the Honduran Air Force, we have the needed aptitude to carry out these tasks satisfactorily,” explained José Alfredo San Martín Flores, DECOH treasurer and one of its four co-founders, along with the organization’s secretary Carlos Oswaldo Padgett, also a former Honduran Air Force pilot, and lawyer Rodolfo Stechmann Andino.
“The government doesn’t have enough people or equipment to care for the entire country. The area of La Mosquitia is particularly vulnerable to irresponsible logging,” San Martín Flores said. The region also attracts drug traffickers who use the unmonitored areas to transport illicit drugs, according to Honduran government data.
DECOH’s chief concern is the Platano River on the border with Nicaragua, the region with the most drug trafficking activity. There, narcotics, weapons and wood are brought across the frontier. “Our chief objective is not locating areas where illicit drugs are planted, but obviously, if we see them, we’ll report it to the appropriate authorities,” Gen. López Reyes concluded.