Bandit loggers bribed into action

Greenpeace, local activists, government agents are targets

Feature story - 23 November, 2003
Three hundred loggers from Porto de Moz in the Amazon surrounded the Greenpeace vessel MV Arctic Sunrise this morning, and local forest activists were threatened with attacks that sent them fleeing for sanctuary.

Greenpeace discovers an illegal logging operation with at least 200km of roads serving the operation. Greenpeace activists paint the loggers barge with the message CRIME then uses it to blockade access to the sort yard.

The protest and threats were aimed not only against Greenpeace, which has been exposing illegal logging in the region, but against the Brazilian Environmental agency's attempt to enforce the laws of Brazil as well. In an action a few days ago our activists discovered a barge full of illegal logs in a remote riverside harbour. Activists painted "Crime" on 6,000 cubic metres of logs, and marked the area with yellow tape as a "Forest Crime" scene. Inspectors from Ibama, the Brazilian Environmental agency, are currently active in the region. Inspectors working along the Transamazonian highway were trapped in their hotel last week when they were surrounded by 300 armed loggers.

Loggers were provoked to protest by a local radio station, saying they were "cowards" if they didn't chase Greenpeace out. The radio station is owned by the mayor of this small town, who also controls the largest logging operation in the region, and who offered free fuel and T-shirts to those who joined. The loggers were further incited by an inflammatory speech by Federal Deputy Nicias Ribeiro, who accused the loggers of "having no balls" unless they forced Greenpeace from the area. The Arctic Sunrise was rammed at one point by a small aluminum boat, and several highly dangerous attempts to board the vessel were repelled. It was reported that alcohol had also been distributed to the protestors. According to Tracy Frauzel, a web editor on board the ship throughout the conflict, the boardings were unlike a Greenpeace protest: "There is one major difference... Greenpeace has a 30-year history of non-violent protest, the loggers in this region have a history of violence and death threats."

The loggers, in 17 boats and 2 large barges, withdrew after tense negotiations, when Greenpeace agreed to permit seven representatives of the logging industry onboard their vessel.

The loggers accused Greenpeace and Ibama, the arm of the Brazilian government responsible for enforcing forestry laws, of causing economic chaos. 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. The Federal government is investigating illegal logging operations, and a community-led movement is seeking to create an extractive reserve, Verde para Sempre (Forever Green).

In the midst of the assault on the Greenpeace ship, 20 leaders of the community movement, 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.

The Arctic Sunrise withdrew from the protest area in order to free up the four State Police who had come onboard, so that they could protect the community leaders.

"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."

"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", added Adario. "The government needs to act now."

Illegal logs discovered last week originated in an area controlled by Mr. Paulo Pombo Tocantins. Pombo has links to Selvapad, a Brazilian-owned company, which has recently started exploiting timber in Para State. Pombo, one of the largest log traders in the Porto de Moz area, supplies companies such as Eidai do Brasil Madeiras S/A. Eidai sells to the US, Japan and into the European Union.

The recently released Greenpeace report "Para - State of Conflict" showed clearly that all government-approved Forest Management Plans in the Porto de Moz region are based on false or insufficient land title documentation. Most of these plans are used to launder illegally cut wood outside of the boundaries of the plans themselves.

Our activists in the Amazon were tipped off last week by ribeirinhos (traditional riverbank settlers) about the problems caused by Selvapad, when the company cut a track through the forest that cut deep into community land. The ribeirinhos also reported that they had to physically stop 300 trees on their land from being illegally cut. According to community members, these trees would certainly have been "laundered" through Paolo Pombo's management plan documents.

Our Ancient Forest Campaign 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. We are 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.

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