Lawlessness in the Amazon Underscores Need for U.S. to Stop Import of Illegal Wood
Three hundred Brazilian loggers threatened the Greenpeace ship the M.V. Arctic Sunrise, in a tense mid-river standoff in the Amazon on Sunday. Greenpeace's work to protect the world's endangered forests has gained renewed attention in the United States because of an unprecedented court case stemming from the group's protest against illegal logging off the coast of Florida in 2002.
Greenpeace Campaign Against Illegal Logging Subject of Unprecedented Court Case
PORTO DE MOZ, Brazil - Three hundred Brazilian loggers, bribed by local officials with promises of free alcohol, fuel and T-shirts, threatened the Greenpeace ship the M.V. Arctic Sunrise, in a tense mid-river standoff in the Amazon on Sunday. The international environmental group is in the Amazon to continue its exposure of illegal logging in the Brazilian rainforest and to help local residents establish protected areas of the rainforest. Greenpeace's work to protect the world's endangered forests has gained renewed attention in the United States because of an unprecedented court case stemming from the group's protest against illegal logging off the coast of Florida in 2002.
"Renegade loggers routinely use violence and death threats against those who are trying to save this rainforest from destruction," said Jeremy Paster, Greenpeace Forest Campaigner who is on the Arctic Sunrise. "And local authorities are often complicit in this intimidation. The U.S. can help oppressed communities in the Amazon by enforcing international law, cutting off the demand for illegal mahogany here in the U.S., and stopping contraband wood from coming in the U.S. That is why Greenpeace took the action that it did in 2002."
In April 2002, two Greenpeace activists climbed onto a commercial ship off the coast of Florida with a banner that read, "President Bush, Stop Illegal Logging." The ship was carrying mahogany wood illegally exported from Brazil's Amazon rainforest. The individuals involved in the protest settled charges against them last year. However, rather than prosecuting the importers of the illegal mahogany, the Justice Department filed criminal charges against Greenpeace itself in July 2003. Greenpeace is fighting the charges - the first criminal prosecution of its kind in U.S. history - as a case of selective prosecution and an attempt by the Bush Administration to stifle peaceful dissent.
In yesterday's events, armed loggers in 17 boats and two large barges threatened violence against the Greenpeace ship and crew near the town of Porto de Moz. One boat even rammed the Arctic Sunrise. The loggers were supported and egged on by local officials, including the mayor, who also owns the largest logging concession in the region. Greenpeace defused the situation by allowing loggers on board the ship for discussions and moving the ship further from town. At the same time, local community leaders, who were meeting in town to establish protected areas of the forest, were forced to seek safe haven at a local church after receiving death threats. Three days earlier, heavily armed loggers held officers of IBAMA (Brazil's environmental agency) and Brazil's federal police hostage in nearby Medicilandia for several hours before releasing them. Greenpeace is continuing its peaceful work in the Amazon and the Arctic Sunrise is continuing its ship tour, despite the volatility of the situation and the possibility of further confrontation.
"It's ironic that even as Greenpeace staff are terrorized in the Amazon, facing very real threats to their lives, Greenpeace is treated like a criminal in the U.S.," stated Paster. "The Justice Department prosecutes us for trying to stop a crime while those who committed the crime get away."