Greenpeace Activists Trapped by Loggers in Amazon

Feature story - 18 October, 2007
Eight Greenpeace activists trapped in a Brazilian environmental protection agency (Ibama) office, for nearly two days, have finally managed to escape. Our team was forced to seek refuge in the Ibama Amazon base, after loggers blocked them from transporting a dead Brazil nut tree we had government permission to collect and use. [UPDATED]

Deforestation is responsible for three quarters of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions, and makes the country the fourth largest climate polluter in the world.

300 loggers, with eight trucks, ten vans, and 15 motorbikes surrounded the building. Then, last night, Brazilian police escorted our team to out of town.

We intended to use the Brazil nut tree as part of a public exhibition exposing Amazon destruction and its contribution to global warming. The tree was taken from land that had been illegally cleared and burnt.

Update - 26 October -

Both the governor and the mayor of Sao Paulo have joined our call for zero deforestation in the Amazon.  ( read more)

Government Sides with Loggers

Unfortunately, the Brazilian government gave in to the loggers, and revoked Greenpeace's license to remove, transport and exhibit the valuable and protected Brazil nut tree, now in custody of the loggers. Despite the government back down, many loggers continued to surround the building with our activists inside. It was not until police committed to escort them later that night, that the Greenpeace team was able to make it to safety.

The loggers were undermining basic constitutional rights such as security and freedom of movement. It is the second time in two months that Greenpeace has been harassed like this in the Amazon jungle.

All this fuss over a tree

That a mob of 300, many of them involved in illegal deforestation, was allowed to stop eight activists from collecting one dead tree shows how out of control the situation is in this part of Brazil - and how special Brazil nut trees are.

Since 1994, the Brazilian nut tree (Bertholettia excelsa) has been protected by law from burning and logging, but is still endangered by illegal land clearing.  

They can grow to over 50 metres tall, live for 500 years and are integral to the rainforest ecosystem.  Brazil nuts grow in canon ball like clusters about the size of grapefruits, which can reach deadly speeds as they fall from the canopy.  Its fruit (nuts) are extremely high in protein - eaten in the region and exported to countries like the UK, Germany and Italy. The nuts are one of the main non-timber forests products in the Amazon.  About one million people depend on them.

Now this one tree is a symbol.  On this, even the illegal loggers and the activists they blockaded agree.  The loggers have said they will build a memorial with the tree in the town square. For us, this is a memorial showing the lack of governance in the Amazon - that the ones in charge aren't the government or the people of Brazil, but the loggers.

Brazil: World’s fourth largest climate polluter

Deforestation is responsible for three quarters of Brazil's greenhouse gas emissions, and makes the country the fourth largest climate polluter in the world. Our exhibition using the Brazil nut tree to highlight this has wide support across the country. Governors of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have already confirmed their attendance.

Brazil wants to be recognized as a serious player on the international stage, yet can't even uphold its own constitution in the Amazon.  Greenpeace is calling for including deforestation in the post-2012 Kyoto climate regime to be discussed in Bali, Indonesia this December.

As Marcelo Maquesini, one of the team trapped inside the Ibama office said, "If Brazil is to be taken seriously by the international community in negotiations on climate, biodiversity or human rights, then they need to be able to enforce basic law and order in the areas where forests are being destroyed."

Amazon deforestation must end

The Brazilian government should allow us to take the Brazil nut tree as agreed. Tackling deforestation is an urgent issue, and people in Brazil (and around the world) have a right to see first hand the consequences of land clearing in the Amazon.

Greenpeace, in cooperation with nine other groups, two weeks ago launched a proposal for a national agreement to end Amazon deforestation at an event attended by the Brazilian Minister of Environment and State Governors. The proposal seeks a broad commitment from the Brazilian government and civil society to create measures protecting the Amazon rainforest.

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