Brazil: Seize the moment to save mahogany

Decisive action needed at CITES to stave off Amazon destruction

Feature story - November 6, 2002
"Brazil and Lula: Save Mahogany". This is Greenpeace activists' message today for Brazil's new president Luiz Inacio da Silva, affectionately known by the public as "Lula". Without decisive support at the UN meeting now underway, the illegal trade in mahogany will continue to fuel Amazon destruction, crime and corruption in Brazil.

Greenpeace campaigner Paulo Adario contemplating destruction in the Brazilian Amazon.

Activists unfurled a banner with their message to Lula in front of the building where delegates are meeting for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Decisions made at the meeting will play a major role in the future of mahogany, an extremely valuable rainforest wood known as "green gold."

Mixed signals

Unfortunately, Brazil is sending mixed signals about its commitment to stop the illegal trade in mahogany. Perhaps they should be reminded that this tree species could become commercially extinct in the wild within two years.

While Brazil's president and the minister of environment speak in favour mahogany protection, the country's foreign ministry is against protection under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Yet support for the CITES proposal on big leaf mahogany, put forward by Central America and intended to regulate trade in Central America, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and other nations, is urgently needed. It would help stem the rampant plunder of mahogany by tightening controls and eliminating illegal logging and trade. This could be accomplished by listing mahogany on Appendix II of CITES.

Status quo of corruption, destruction

Instead of tighter controls under CITES, Brazil's foreign ministry supports a continuation of the status quo. Unfortunately, that is simply not good enough.

It's true that Brazil has already had a moratorium on the exploitation, transport and commercialisation of mahogany for more than a year, and that this moratorium will remain in place until February 2003.

But this ban has utterly failed to protect mahogany against Illegal logging, corruption, lax controls and international buyers who are willing to look the other way. Once the mahogany loggers bulldoze illegal access roads through pristine rainforest, it leaves the forest open to broader destruction. Unknown numbers of Indians have been murdered, a result of often-violent conflicts that flare up as they try to protect their land from loggers.

The plunder continues: in the last two weeks, Brazilian authorities seized four trucks transporting mahogany in Belem, Para State, and three containers at the port ready for export. The mahogany they seized was actually registered as a different species.

Mahogany vigil gets visitor

Yesterday, Greenpeace activists staging a two-week mahogany vigil in Brasilia, Brazil received a visit from Senator Marina Silva, who agreed that "despite the moratorium, there is still an expressive exploitation of Mahogany."

Silva, who is from the Amazon forest state of Acre, has a long track record of defending forests. "I'm in favour of the listing on Appendix II because the measures that we have on Appendix III are not enough to protect this species," Silva told the activists, who are gathered around a mahogany tree growing between the ministry of environment and ministry agriculture buildings in Brasilia.

A crucial test for Lula

Speaking about the divisions within the Brazilian government, Greenpeace campaigner Paulo Adario said, "This has brought Brazil and CITES into disrepute internationally. It will be very embarrassing if Lula's government starts off on such a weak footing on environmental issues.

Take action!

Send a fax to the President of Brazil to stop the illegal mahogany trade and protect the Amazon.

Send your friends an endangered species recipe e-card.