For José Román Carrera, protecting forests is a matter of life and death.
“I received 82 death threats,” Román recalls of the years he spent helping to establish Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve in the 90s. “And those were just the written ones. I also got many, many calls saying, ‘Leave the country or we’ll kill you, we’ll get your mother.’ I was shot at in my car – 17 bullets. Another time they put a bomb at my house."
“But I’m still here,” he says with a laugh. “They tried to kill me and they didn’t. Eventually they realized I would never leave. I had to protect the Maya Biosphere Reserve.”
Those who know Román say his extraordinary commitment hasn’t waned over the course of his 25-year career. Fourteen years ago, he joined the Rainforest Alliance and currently supports forestry communities all over Latin America with his unflagging, fearless dedication – thankfully, with fewer death threats.
His great passion is for the forestry concession system. “The idea is to improve their incomes without destroying the forest,” Román says. “I am totally convinced that it works. Just look at the Maya Biosphere Reserve. In the buffer zone, the rate of deforestation is 7 percent. In the core zone (where no deforestation is allowed) it’s 2 percent. In the concession areas where the Rainforest Alliance has been continuously working with forest communities for 10 years, the deforestation rate is zero.”
Román traces his love for conservation to his childhood, when he would walk five kilometers through the forest every day to get to school.
“I saw macaws, deer, sometimes I would see a jaguar,” he remembers. This was during Guatemala’s civil war, when the army and guerillas were fighting, making the area unattractive to businesses. After the peace accord, companies – as well as illegal loggers, marijuana growers and looters of the famed archeological site Tikal – started coming in and destroying the forests. “Now, where my family lives, most of the tropical forests have disappeared,” Román says.
Román admits he’s “in love” with his work and calls his wife an angel because she also believes in conservation and improving livelihoods of forest-dependent people. Together the couple provides four to six scholarships each year to boys and girls from Román’s hometown.
“If I hadn’t had scholarships, I couldn’t have studied,” explains Román, who was one of 10 children. “I had to leave the community to study. We didn’t have roads! I’m just paying back what I received. My dream is to provide even more scholarships.”
For Román, maintaining his zeal for community-based forest management is easy. “When you go to one of these communities and you see women integrated into timber and non-timber production and also in the governments of these enterprises, when you see teenagers becoming professionals – teachers, nurses, technicians – you have faith.”
Learn more about the Rainforest Alliance’s (CFC# 11353) work supporting conservation superstars like José at www.ra.org!