"Bandit" loggers ordered to "hi-jack" Greenpeace in the Amazon

Press release - 24 November, 2003
Three hundred Brazilian loggers, bribed by local officials with promises of free alcohol, fuel and T-shirts, converged on the Greenpeace ship the MV Arctic Sunrise in a mid-river stand off in the Amazon. The loggers are angered by the international environmental group's ongoing exposure of illegal logging in the area.

Greenpeace Amazon campaigner Paulo Adario talks to local loggers. Amazon Rainforest loggers in more than a dozen boats and barges protest against Greenpeace and the creation of the extractive reserve 'Verde para sempre- Green forever'.

The loggers, who blocked the path of the Greenpeace ship with more than a dozen river boats, work in Para state - subject of an in-depth Greenpeace report(1), which highlights illegal logging, endemic crime and bribery as well as a slave trade - all centred around illegal logging in the world's greatest rainforest.

The lawlessness in the area is such, that three days ago officers of IBAMA (Brazil's Environmental Agency) and Federal Police were held hostage by heavily armed loggers in Medicilandia for several hours before being released.

Greenpeace is currently working in and around Porto de Moz in support of an ongoing Federal government investigations of illegal logging operations, and a community-led movement to create the extractive reserve Verde para Sempre (Forever Green)(2).

The region is a hot bed of institutional intimidation. The local mayor who governs the region also owns the local radio station that broadcast the "call to arms" of the loggers. Not surprisingly, he also owns the largest logging concession in the region. His brother was involved in an attack on another Greenpeace vessel and local community activists last year(3). This latest piece of blatant intimidation was supported by the region's Federal deputy, who accused the loggers of "having no balls" unless they forced Greenpeace from the area.

The loggers, in 17 boats and 2 large barges, attempted to board the MV Arctic Sunrise but withdrew after tense negotiations, when Greenpeace agreed to permit seven representatives of the logging industry onboard their vessel. The loggers accused Greenpeace and Ibama of causing economic chaos because logging, the main activity in the region, ground to a halt last week when Ibama arrived to apply rule of law in this wild frontier.

"Para continues to lead the pack in lawlessness in the Amazon" said Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Amazon Campaign Coordinator. "Rather than comply with the laws of Brazil, the loggers are aggressively demanding that the government withdraws and leaves them to continue to destroy the Amazon with impunity."

In the midst of the assault on the Greenpeace ship, 20 leaders of the community movement to create the extractive reserve, who were meeting at the Rural Workers Union building in the town, received an anonymous telephone call saying that they would be attacked and their office burned. They fled and took sanctuary in the local Catholic Church. In order to free up the four State Police who had come onboard the Arctic Sunrise to control the situation, so that they could protect the community leaders, the MVAS sailed 10 miles downriver, away from Porto de Moz and the loggers.

"If this lawlessness is not brought under control, and if the Porto de Moz and Prainha Reserves are not immediately created by Brazil's Federal Government, the illegal logging industry will destroy the remaining forest of the region. This will leave the 15,000 people of the local communities with no hope of preserving the environment that they depend upon for their very survival," stated Gavin Edwards, Greenpeace International Forests Campaigner. "The government needs to act now."

Greenpeace is urging companies to immediately stop buying wood from Porto de Moz and the Prainha region, because most of the wood comes from illegal and crime related areas(4).

Greenpeace promotes the ecological and social use of the forest resources, as well as the creation of a network of protected areas in ancient forest regions worldwide.

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(1) 'State of Conflict' is available at: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/planet-2/report/2003/11/state-of-conflict.pdf

(2) Extractive reserves are the legacy of Chico Mendes, the workers’ activist assassinated in 1985. Land is granted by the federal government to be cooperatively managed by the local communities for low-impact activities such as rubber tapping, vegetable oil extraction and small-scale logging. Extractive reserves also are required to include fully protected areas, guarded by the communities themselves. Three years ago, the ribeirinhos (traditional riverbank settlers) from Porto de Moz and Prainha started their fight for the creation of extractive reserves as the only way to guarantee the right for using the land and the responsible management of the region's natural resources.

(3) The brother of Mayor Gerson Campos in September 2002 attempted to power a 9,000 tonne log barge though a peaceful community blockade of the Jaraucu River. Only quick action on the part of Greenpeace and the community members saved over 80 people from serious injury or death. The community members were protesting against illegal logging in the region.

(4) This includes timber from sawmills in Sao Felix do Xingu, Redencao, Tucuma, Xinguara, Ourilandia do Norte, Agua Azul do Norte, Altamira, Brasil Novo, Medicilandia, Uruara, Placas, Ruropolis, Itaituba, Trairao e Novo Progresso, municipalities with sawmillls involved with illegal timber and the destruction of the forest in the Middle Land, Porto de Moz and Prainha and its surroundings.