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Peru: Narco-traffickers use illegal logging to boost profits

By Jamie Dettmer for Infosurhoy.com – 19/06/2012

An estimated 80% of Peru’s timber exports are illegal, according to the World Bank.

Logs are stacked near an informal gold mine along a section of the
					Interoceanic Highway in Peru’s department of Madre de Dios. (Mariana

Logs are stacked near an informal gold mine along a section of the Interoceanic Highway in Peru’s department of Madre de Dios. (Mariana Bazo/Reuters)

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – Andean narco-traffickers are smuggling illicit timber, often using the same transport networks to move wood and drugs and threatening the environment with unsustainable logging.

An estimated 80% of Peru’s timber exports are illegal, according to the World Bank, which estimated those exports generate US$72 million in annual profits for timber smugglers. Last year, illegal logging cost the Peruvian government more than $250 million in lost tax revenue, unpaid fees and environmental damage.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which specializes in environmental crimes, said in an April report traffickers can earn US$1,700 for a high-quality mahogany tree sold on the Peruvian black market, and about US$1,000 for a cedar tree. Both tree species are protected under Peruvian law and international conventions aimed at ensuring sustainable logging and reducing the threat of global warming.

In the U.S. lumber market, a Peruvian mahogany tree sells for US$11,000, while a cedar tree fetches US$9,000, according to the EIA. The report, “The Laundering Machine,” states a small group of “timber barons” dominates the illegal logging business and has put together an elaborate logistics network involving loggers, traders, truckers and boatmen to secure the product and ship it out of Peru. Since timber and drug smuggling involve the same systems, the two illicit trades have started to overlap.

Smugglers of drugs, timber have much in common

The initial connection between the two is believed to have come when drug smugglers saw potential in utilizing timber shipments to hide drugs.

Billy Hammer, former head of the Central Amazon Loggers’ Association, said organized crime is heavily involved in the illicit timber business and narcotics and illegal logging are interconnected.

“They use logging to traffic cocaine,” he said. “They hide the cocaine in the wood, and they launder the money through the logging industry.”

The EIA said the case of Luís Valdez Villacorta, former mayor of Pucalipa – a key Peruvian logging and timber town – highlights the nexus between drug smuggling and timber smuggling. In 2003, Peruvian police found 523 kilograms (1,153 pounds) of cocaine concealed in plywood owned by Valdez Villacorta that was being prepared to be shipped to Mexico.

In 2008, when Peruvian police officers arrested Valdez Villacorta, they described him as a major cocaine trafficker. Drug smuggling and money laundering charges were filed against the ex-mayor, and authorities seized 34 properties, 44 boats and 200 vehicles.

On May 10 of this year, an appeals court absolved Valdez Villacorta of involvement in the 2004 murder of journalist Alberto Rivera Fernández, who had been investigating the drug and logging trades in Pucalipa.

The court said there was not enough evidence to prove the Valdez Villacorta had ordered the journalist’s slaying – a ruling Rivera Fernández’s family is appealing to the Supreme Court. The family’s lead lawyer, Carlos Rivera said the court has failed to solve “the greatest crime committed against the Peruvian press” in recent memory.

World Bank: Illegal timber trade wreaks havoc on environment

In its study of the illegal timber trade in Peru, the EIA chronicles a number of detrimental spinoff activities:

In March, the World Bank issued its report on the dangers of illegal logging, noting that in some countries, illegally harvested logs account for as much as 90% of the timber trade. It added that illegal logging causes “enormous environmental and societal costs” by threatening biodiversity, increasing carbon emissions, eroding soil, prompting flooding, causing landslides and undermining the resource-based livelihoods of rural people.

“The overall message of this paper is that law enforcement [investigation, prosecution, imprisonment, and the confiscation of illegal proceeds] can no longer be shunted into a corner,” the 56-page report stated. “Rather, it needs to form part of an integrated and sustainable solution to the problem of illegal logging.”

The bank noted illegal loggers are clearing the equivalent of a football field of the world’s most valuable forests every two seconds. It said governments must work harder to introduce preventive measures, including educating consumers about the problem, promoting legal reforms governing forest tenure and timber rights, and using certification and related methods to make it easier to differentiate between legal and illegally logged timber.

But while “preventive actions against illegal logging are critical,” said Magda Lovei, the bank’s sector manager, “we also know that they are insufficient.”

Local and international law enforcement should target the criminal operations that profit most from the trade, she added.

Groups urge swift action against smugglers

Criminal justice personnel should deploy the same tools they use to fight narco-trafficking and money laundering to investigate, prosecute and punish the kingpins behind large-scale illegal logging, according to the report.

Bank officials and environmental activists argue that enforcement needs to “follow the money” and track the proceeds from illegal logging as they move through the banking system to help identify kingpins and seize ill-gotten profits. The report states law enforcement should focus less on low-level criminals and more on the “criminal organizations or intermediaries ultimately responsible.”

“All too often, investigations – in the rare event they do take place – are amateurish and inconclusive, and the few cases taken to court tend to be of trivial significance,” according to the report.

National Geographic has reported that isolated Peruvian Amazon tribes have been fleeing Peru to escape the encroachment of illegal loggers.

Last August, the Upper Amazon Conservancy – a watchdog nonprofit that works with the Peruvian Park Service and indigenous tribes to protect the biodiversity of the upper Amazon River – warned that illegal mahogany loggers had penetrated the Murunahua River tribal reserve in southeastern Peru and built an extensive clandestine network of forest roads

“Loggers now access remote territory inside the reserve, where they cut highly valuable mahogany trees and sneak the slabs out the ‘back door’ to waterways less frequented by local tribesmen,” the NGO said.

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  1. juliancito 07/18/2012

    Well, it's very good news, from what I can see, it has much to do with a neighboring country, Peru, where such is also indiscriminate and of course it is connected to drug trafficking, in this regard I propose that you read something from Veja magazine that I just got: A police report reveals the meeting between a Brazilian drug trafficker and the second in command in the Bolivian government. Copy of the original article in the magazine Veja: Pg. 1, Pg. 2, Pg. 3 The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, is proud to encourage coca cultivation, the raw material for more than half the cocaine and crack used in Brazil, under the argument that its leaves are used for tea and traditional medicine. However, and according to estimates by the United Nations (U.N.), only one-third of cocaine planted in his country meets that demand. The rest supplies drug trafficking, and as a result, contributes to corrupting the lives of almost one million Brazilians and their families. Recently evidence has been uncovered that the complicity of the Bolivian government with drug trafficking goes beyond a simple defense of the interests of the coca leave growers or coca planters. Veja had access to reports produced by an intelligence unit within the Bolivian police, which reveals that, among other acts, a direct connection between Evo Morales' right-hand man, Minister of the Presidency, Juan Ramón Quintana, and a Brazilian drug trafficker who is currently serving his sentence in the Catanduvas maximum security prison, in Paraná. Unlike Colombia, which in the 80s cultivated and refined 90% of the cocaine consumed in the world, and now fights the cartels and cuts its production; Bolivia has a serious problem, to be called tomorrow a drug state.

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