Illegal logs seized after attack on peaceful protest in the Amazon

Feature story - 22 September, 2002
After only three days, the river blockade mounted by local communities in the Amazon has stopped two illegal logging barges carrying over 200 logs. The barges have been impounded and the owner fined almost 200,000 Brazilian Reals - nearly US$ 60,000.

Two barges transporting over 200 illegal logs were impounded by IBAMA (Brazilian Environmental Agency) after a three days blockade by 40 small river boats in the Jaraucu river.

The communities' successful protest supported by Greenpeace activists on the ground is the first of its kind in almost 20 years as the people that depend on the forest for their livelihood stand up against forest destruction and demand the creation of an extractive reserve.

Extractive reserves are protected areas designated for conservation and sustainable use of the areas' natural resources by the people who live in the area. The three-day protest was inspired by Chico Mendes, a world-renowned activist, who was murdered 14 years ago trying to protect the Amazon rainforest. His model of protest, known as empates or physical blockades of forest areas, was widely used in the 1980's. Chico Mendes also developed the model for extractive reserves in the 80s with other traditional forest dwellers and the National Council of Rubber Tappers and was later adopted by the Brazilian federal government.

This is the first time a blockade of this type has been carried out since he died. The communities' goal is to create Verde Para Sempre (Forever Green), the largest extractive reserve in the world, which would help stop forest destruction and promote the sustainable use of natural resources. The proposed area is 1.3 million hectares, almost half the size of Belgium.

Over 40 small riverboats anchored across the 100-meter wide Jaraucu river - the main channel for the transport of illegal timber in the region this time of year. The blockade saw this first transport over the weekend as metal barge carrying 113 illegally harvested logs was stopped.

The skipper of the tugboat, André Campos, is the brother of the Mayor of Porto de Moz, a small town at the mouth of the Xingu river. The barge tried to ram the blockade at high speed. A Greenpeace inflatable boat was able to deflect the barge into the riverbank, saving five small boats from destruction, and 86 local people, mostly children and elderly people, from serious injury or death.

The barge crew reacted violently and three people were injured. Protesters from Greenpeace and a journalist from the Brazilian TV network Record, also had to be rescued from the local airport at Porto de Moz by police after coming under threat from the logging community.

Ibama (the Brazilian Environmental Agency) agents seized the illegal logs on board the first barge and then later, together with Greenpeace and community members, impounded a second barge with 90 illegal logs onboard, also owned by a member of the Campos family.

Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Amazon Campaign Coordinator, is on the scene and describes the area as no man's land. "It's criminal that officials who are entrusted with public safety, like the Mayor of Porto de Moz, instead protect only their commercial interests, while the people of the region live in fear as their environment is destroyed. Eighty percent of the worlds' ancient forests are already destroyed, and the very people who could preserve the remainder are subjected to intimidation and violence."