Peru's indigenous murders expose scale of illegal logging

Criminal networks act with “impunity” in the Amazon, environmentalists say, and called on the governmnt to respond.

Peru's indigenous murders expose scale of illegal logging

World Bulletin / News Desk

The killing of four tribal leaders by suspected loggers in the Peruvian Amazon this month has brought into sharp focus the country’s failure to contain illegal logging and protect affected indigenous communities, environmentalists charged Wednesday.

The Sept. 1 murders of outspoken anti-logging activist, Edwin Chota and three other Ashaninka members, underscore the void now filled by criminal groups who export endangered hardwoods.

“The jungle has been abandoned by the state, and so local mafias and corruption have taken over,” said Julia Urranaga, Peru’s director of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), during a Wednesday press conference in Lima. “There is nobody that defends the rights of indigenous people in the jungle.”

Almost two-thirds of Peru’s territory is covered by dense Amazon jungle. The illegal felling of timber rose to $31 million between 2009 and 2013, according to the country’s supervisory body, Osinfor.

Peru permits only the sale of certified timber that comes from a logging concession, awarded by regional governments.

But the system for authenticating its provenance is corrupt and operates on false information involving the bribery or intimidation of public officials, according to an EIA report published in 2012.

“The problem is that one entity gives titles and the other concessions; for one, the communities exist, and for the other, they don’t,” said Patricia Balbuena, the vice minister for Interculturality, which deals with indigenous affairs.

“We’re paying the consequences of the disorder of the transfer of powers to the regional governments.”

Peru may indeed be losing up to $250 million a year of illegal timber according to Interpol, as lucrative mahogany and cedar is shipped under bogus documentation to make floors and furniture in the United States, Europe and China.

Out of 300 containers inspected by customs authorities in 2012, 40 percent contained illegal wood. The World Bank puts the estimate at 80 percent.

“Export controls aren’t severe,” said Jean Pierre Aruajo, a lawyer for the Peruvian Society of Environmental Law (SDPA).

“You realize on inspection that the falsification was so clumsy, that there will be trees of different types put together, or others with magic dimensions which are naturally impossible. The authorities are failing on basic information.”

Underequipped officials cannot inspect all cargo and are unlikely to stop a container, unless a business declares it is carrying protected hardwoods, Urrunaga said.

Timber merchants, however, could be fronts for “wood laundering,” formalizing illicit revenues.

Loggers have exploited a loophole that allows them to sell wood that drift away from sawmills as river levels rise.

“The volumes are very high and inexplicable,” Urrunaga said. “Some wood doesn’t even float.”

Loggers extract hardwoods, deforesting ancestral lands without the consent of tribal leaders in many cases, though some leaders are accused of being complicit.

Commonly, loggers will agree to documents for certain trees – for the purposes of laundering more wood – and never return. In spite of low prices offered, loggers may provide advances then later reject the quality of woods, requesting more.

Exploitative relationships can ensue.

Chota and the three other leaders were on their way to a meeting to discuss logging in Brazil when they were killed in the forests of the Ucayali region on the border with the Brazilian state of Acre.

The prominent activist was fighting for his native community of Saweto to be given land titles, keeping loggers at bay. While his community of 30 families was given official recognition in 2003, a 40-year logging concession was granted the year before.

About 18 million hectares of communities in the Peruvian Amazon remain untitled, while 5 million are scheduled to be soon licensed.

On Sunday, Peru’s government said it would form a commission to combat illegal logging, mirroring similar approaches in small-scale illegal mining activities.

But a group representing indigenous peoples in nine countries said the measures wouldn’t address the violence faced by those who protect deforestation of the rainforests.

“The only way our governments can demonstrate a commitment to ending violence and illegal logging is to title our historic lands in the Amazon,” Edwin Vazquez, coordinator general of the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA).

Chota told authorities he received death threats five months earlier, though no action was taken.

Another Amazonian native, Mauro Pio, was killed last year in Peru’s central jungle.

“The relatives have presented us with a series of demands with which we are working with different sectors, and we hope that the procedures that the Ministry of Interculturality and the police are conducting, finish so that a delegation of the Cabinet can enter and see the problems of the area,” said vice minister Balbuena.

Urrunaga and Aruaja said indigenous groups need more government help when signing contracts with timber merchants, as well as more supervision in the area.

Peru hosts the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change in the capital of Lima in December. COICA said natives would attend to raise awareness.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 18 Eylül 2014, 10:13