View from the Amazon

Feature story - October 30, 2003
"From our perspective, it seems that the messenger is being 'shot' while the criminals go free. We thought this only happened in the lawless frontiers of the Amazon, and not in the United States of America..." Read more from Paulo Adario.

In 2001, after more than two years of research and investigation on the ground in the Brazilian Amazon, Greenpeace released a report showing that illegal logging was rampant throughout the region, under the control of a "Mahogany Mafia." Working closely with a number of Brazilian federal government agencies, we revealed the connection between illegal logging activities and the implicit acceptance of these practices by middlemen and by international buyers, including a number of U.S. companies.

The Brazilian government banned the export of mahogany, a ban that remains in place to this day, while they put controls in place to ensure that all mahogany logging is done sustainably and legally.

We are now in the middle of exposing another aspect of illegal logging and deforestation in the Amazon: violence, assassination and slavery.

Para State, where most of Brazil's mahogany is found, is vast and sparsely populated. It is also an extremely violent and lawless area. Loggers open hundreds of miles of illegal roads to find these valuable trees, stealing them from local and indigenous people. They also steal the very land that local communities depend on for survival, using brutal methods of intimidation, assault, and even murder.

So far this year, in an area known as Sao Felix do Xingu in the heart of Para State, 30 people have been murdered -- assassinated over land and mahogany conflicts. In 2002, 5,559 slaves were discovered working in the region on cattle ranches and other deforested areas.

More than 20 of our allies in local communities -- poor people who depend on the Amazon for their very survival -- are under threat of death.

Although Brazil is the 10th largest economy in the world, it faces enormous social and economic disparities. Millions of Brazilians are condemned to poverty and hunger while ten percent of the population controls almost fifty percent of the revenues.

Our new president, Luis Inacio da Silva, took office in January of this year on a platform of ending poverty, establishing social justice, and protecting the environment. The government's plans are ambitious, but they will not happen overnight. And they cannot be done without strong support from countries such as the United States, which, in 2002 imported almost US $110,000,000 of wood products from Para State alone, most of it of dubious or untraceable origin, stolen from the people of Brazil by criminals who are causing massive destruction to the Amazon rainforest.

I would like to quote something that the Chief of Enforcement for IBAMA, the Brazilian equivalent of the EPA, said earlier this month:

"In the case of illegal exploitation of Mahogany in Brazil it transcends frontiers of the Brazilian Government. The American Government has in important role, the Forest Service, American Customs, to help and stop the importation of illegal woods."

So I'd like to pass a message along to the American Government, the branches of the American government such as Customs and the Forest Service should be working together with the Brazilian government, with IBAMA, so we can attack, together, the illegal extraction and import of Brazilian wood.

The Brazilian government, with whom we work very closely against illegal and destructive logging, has asked the US government for help. The cause of poor communities throughout the Amazon was strengthened when the U.S. government seized illegal shipments of Brazilian mahogany in U.S. ports. Greenpeace identified a ship entering the Port of Miami that was carrying illegal mahogany from Brazil to the USA.

And now Greenpeace has been charged with criminal offenses by the U.S. Department of Justice in Florida.

From our perspective, it seems that the messenger is being "shot" while the criminals go free. We thought this only happened in the lawless frontiers of the Amazon, and not in the United States of America.

Paulo Adario, Greenpeace Amazon

October 30, 2003