Horácio has been our team’s guide through the mangroves during these past few weeks. I first met Horácio on the first Friday in a meeting with the Environmental Committee of the Local Plan of Sustainable Extraction (PLES). We had committee into two smaller groups: officials and community representatives. The idea was for the community representatives to feel as comfortable as possible and thus respond as genuinely as possible to our questions.
Horácio joined the group of officials. He is a guardarecurso. Guardarecursos do just what the name implies – they guard the resources. They are local community members who patrol the mangroves and site PLES infractions to higher authorities. Examples of infractions include extracting punche crabs during molting or reproductive periods, cutting mangrove wood from unauthorized sites or without seeking a permit first, and fishing in Izcanal, the only designated no-fishing area.
I facilitated the group of officials, and Horárcio’s demeanor struck me immediately. First I noticed his full guardarecurso uniform. Second, his careful navigation of the politically charged group. Though I have some experience in this type of navigation, subtlety has never really been my strong suit. Thus, I am quick to note (and envy) it in others.
Throughout the committee discussion and in days to come, I would realize that Horácio knows more about PLES than just about anyone. He is a local community member, and thus knows the ins and outs of all the social idiosyncrasies. He loves the mangroves and patrols them daily, and thus knows the natural environment like the back of his hand. Finally, he sits on the Environmental Committee, and thus understands the various levels of politics associated with a community-based natural resource management plan.
Besides serving as an enormous wealth of information, Horácio is proof of concept for an argument I love to make: natural resource conservation does not have to be a luxury for developed nations. Funding for guardarecursos has passed from the hands of the Spanish government, to a regional fund, to the national government and a local NGO. Recently, the local NGO ran out of funding for Horácio’s salary, and he now patrols the mangroves as a volunteer. Though most community members appreciate his presence, there are those few who respond to his reprimands with, “Get a real job.”
On the same Friday I mentally distinguished Horácio for his political know-how, he took us on a boat tour of the Bay of Jiquilisco. While on the boat, he and another guardarecurso explained the funding situation to me. Horácio paused for a while when he and the other guardarecurso finished explaining. And then he said, “Nosotros hemos sido abandonados, pero no vamos a abandonar la tierra.” We have been abandoned, but we will not abandon the land. Horácio depends on the mangroves, and the mangroves depend on Horácio.