Vice President of Ucayali Launders Illegally Logged Wood, According to OSINFOR
Illegal logging in Peru’s Ucayali region and its link to the murder of Ashanika indigenous activist Edwin Chota is investigated by La Republica in the translated articled below. In the article, EIA’s Director of Peru Programs provides context on the corruption in the government logging concession system that allows for illegal logging and harm to indigenous peoples and their land, based on EIA’s 2012 report, The Laundering Machine.
Ashaninka leader Edwin Chota Valera was killed just before achieving the titling of land that belongs to his native community, the Alto Tamaya-Saweto, as well as the land belonging to four other communities in the river basin. All of those communities’ lands had been handed over by the government to various loggers in a 2002 concession through a public tender process.
Since 2002 Chota had fought within the legal system, sending dozens of requests to the Sectorial Director of Agriculture in Ucayali. He also sent requests to the agency called INRENA (the National Institute of Natural Resources) at the time, to COFOPRI (Organization for the Formal Titling of Informal Property), and also to various individuals who held the position of Minister of Agriculture for the next 12 years.
Reason was, and is, on his side. Directoral Resolution 083-2003 of INRENA recognizes the pre-existing rights of the indigenous communities and foresees that the area that belongs to the community will be excluded from the forest concession.
Nonetheless, the Regional Government of Ucayali has continually refused to comply. First, the regional government argued that they did not have a sufficient budget to demarcate the community’s territory. Then it said that Chota had to reach an agreement with those who held title to the timber concessions (Jose Carlos Estrada Hayta, from Ecofu SAC, and Ramiro Barrios Galvan) which were on the community’s ancestral lands (see infographic).
This last argument has been declared “implausible” by Fabiola Muñoz, head of the Forest and Wildlife Service (Servicio Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre, SERFOR). Muñoz believes that there is no reason for the regional government to deny land title to the Saweto community.
“There is no law that says that in order to get their lands excluded from the concession you have to make an agreement with the loggers,” says Muñoz. She stresses that even the Regional Management plan for Agriculture in Ucayali recommended that the Saweto be given title to their land on April 1, 2013, after doing a socioeconomic and population study of the community.
Despite this recommendation, this year the regional government’s Department of Physical and Legal Resolution of Land Conflicts once again refused to give Saweto title to its land and did not apply the law.
Why is this the case? “Because in the Regional Government of Ucayali, the timber loggers are in control,” responds Roberto Guimaraes, leader of the Federation of Native Communities of the Ucayali and Tributaries (la Federacion de Comunidades Nativas del Ucayali y Afluentes, FECONAU).
THE VICE PRESIDENT’S CONCESSIONS
Carlos Fernando Henderson Lima, current Vice President of the Ucayali region, owns Henderson Group (Grupo Henderson). His business group is made up of the companies Henderson and Sons, which rents mechanized logging equipment, “La Macarena” River Transport, and Marañon Logging SRL.
The logging company holds title to the Concession Contract for Forest Management and Extraction for Timber Purposes in Units of Extraction No. 294, 295, 296, and 297 (see infographic). In total, he holds concessions of around 28 thousand hectares of permanent production forests located in the district of Tahuania, a province of Atalaya.
On September 23, 2013, OSINFOR began an administrative proceeding against Henderson’s timber company. (Directoral Resolution 391-2013-Osinfor-DSCFFS).
After supervising the Regional Vice President’s concessions, OSINFOR concluded that the 4,491,892 cubic meters of wood that the company had declared to have been extracted under its Annual Operating Plan (POA) 2011-2012 did not come from within its concessions.
The OSINFOR inspectors confirmed in situ that the allegedly cut trees were still standing. That is to say, the timber had been laundered through false Forest Transport Permits and came from illegal logging.
According to the decision of OSINFOR, Marañon Logging “had utilized its Annual Operating Plan and its Forest Transport Permits to give its volumes of timber the appearance of legality.”
Furthermore, OSINFOR also proved that Henderson owed almost 34 thousand dollars for the right to extraction from his concessions.
Directoral Resolution No. 242-2014, established on May 22, declared that the regional Vice President’s concessions were no longer valid, definitively cancelled its Forest Transport Permits, and fined him 65.02 UIT (more than 247 thousand soles, or US $85,084.65). This resolution was based on OSINFOR’s determination that the more than four thousand cubic meters of illegal timber removed caused “a grave danger to the forest ecosystem.”
The logging company appealed to OSINFOR, asking it to reverse its decision. However, on August 4th, 2014, OSINFOR reaffirmed the main sanctions on the regional Vice President’s company in a new decision (D.R. 380-2014). This decision was also appealed by Henderson and is currently in proceedings.
At the same time, the logging company began a legal action for amparo [a type of legal action alleging violation of basic constitutional rights and demanding that the violating actions be stopped or the violation compensated] with the judicial branch of the Peruvian government. Marañon Timber SRL brought a lawsuit against OSINFOR in the Second Civil Court of Pucallpa and was granted an Action of Amparo (00572-2014-42-2402-JR-CI-01) with the approval of Judge Guillermo Arturo Lopez Menacho.
According to the Vice President, his concessions continue to be valid.
In short, in a span of only a few days the judicial branch is cutting down more than a year’s worth of effort by OSINFOR to investigate this situation, thanks to this amparo action. “It is not possible for the national authority to make the determination that there has been illegal conduct, for it to denounce and sanction it, and then have a judge lift the sanction in spite of the technical opinion of the forest authorities,” declared Fabiola Muñoz indignantly upon learning of the amparo action in favor of Marañon Logging.
JUDGE AND JURY
In a statement to La Republica, the regional Vice President, Carlos Henderson, said that he believes that continuing to hold title to his logging companies is not incompatible with performing the duties of his public position.
However, in 2010 forest management authority was transferred to Ucayali, along with eight other regions in the country. Therefore the region of Ucayali – and its Vice President – is in charge of management and constant supervision of each of the forest concessions inside of its territory.
For its part, the national supervisory entity OSINFOR “is responsible for confirming that what the regional government and the concession holder say is true,” explains the head of SERFOR.
Through its inspections, OSINFOR has found year after year that the declared wood is not from the concessions. This shows the lack of oversight, or even complicity, by the regional governments respecting this illegal activity.
In this context, communities like Saweto are alone in the fight against illegal logging, which is fraudulently hidden by forest concessions that launder the wood through their Forest Transport Permits. The price that they pay for denouncing this activity, as shown by the killing of Chota and three other community leaders, is their lives. Just like this Ashaninka community, 82 indigenous communities in Ucayali face conflicts with forest concession holders whose concessions overlap with their territories, according to the Federation of Native Communities of Ucayali and Tributaries.
All of these communities hope that the Regional Government of Ucayali gives them title to their lands. The land title is the only tool that would let them make sure that their territories are not included in the forest concessions.
“We were victims of acts of abuse perpetrated by OSINFOR”
The regional Vice President Carlos Henderson stated via email to La Republica that he believes himself to be an “injured party” since, he says, he has been a “victim of acts of abuse perpetrated by OSINFOR.” He claims that OSINFOR’s first decision that invalidated his concessions was “based on arguments that were completely contrary to reality and the law.”
In response to Henderson’s contestation, OSINFOR reiterated its sanctions in respect to the 2011-2012 harvest and eliminated those concerning the 2008-2009 harvest. After this, Henderson has once again sought to appeal this decision, which imposes a fine of more than 200 thousand soles on him. Simultaneously he has also begun an amparo action in the Peruvian courts.
“All of the decisions emitted from the administrative proceedings are showing that reason is on our side. Our actions are correct and show that we have not committed any infraction against the forestry legislation.”
It's time to turn off the laundering machine
Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)
In April 2012 EIA published “The Laundering Machine,” a report that uses official documents of the Peruvian government to show that a large part of the wood exported by Peru is of illegal origin, and is laundered using the complicity of private forestry engineers and public officials.
In our investigation we found that forest concessions are used as a façade to produce forest inventories that list trees that do not exist. The authorities approve these fake inventories without verifying or questioning them. In this way the delinquent concessions holders are able to procure “legal” documentation in order to launder illegally logged timber.
In April 2012, the government announced a revision of the concessions system. But two years later the laundering machine continues, and nobody has been sanctioned. OSINFOR continues to find that timber is not coming from concessions. In an operation at the beginning of this year, SUNAT confiscated illegal timber of approximately US $20 million. Meanwhile, the Minister of Agriculture announced that five million more hectares will be given as forest concessions without revising or reforming the system.
Why doesn’t the government stop the laundering machine? The same illegal logging that leads to corrupt authorities and the killing of indigenous leaders is only made possible because it relies on a system that allows for timber logging. The first step for fighting against illegal logging is turning off the laundering machine.
On the national level, forest concessions add up to 7.1 million hectares. 35% of these hectares are located in Ucayali. 82 indigenous communities are demanding that the government give them title to their lands, parts of which have been given away in timber concessions.
Translated by Amanda Monaco, Latin America Fellow.