EIA Denounces Termination of Peruvian Forest Oversight Body President
To read this release in Spanish, click here.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—In response to news today that the Peruvian government is acting to silence its own civil servants exposing the embedded illegal timber mafias in the country, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) denounces in the strongest possible terms the termination of Rolando Navarro as President of OSINFOR (Organismo de Supervisión de los Recursos Forestales y de Fauna Silvestre).
This agency, the only organization with an independent mandate to monitor the legal compliance of timber concessions in Peru, has recently suffered physical attacks on its offices and death threats to its employees. In late November 2015, in response to a crackdown on illegal timber leaving Peru from Iquitos at the headwaters of the Amazon, Rolando Navarro, the director of OSINFOR, had his name prominently displayed on a symbolic coffin at timber industry-led demonstrations. Today, Peruvian President Humala dismissed OSINFOR’S Navarro for doing his job, dealing a significant blow to ongoing efforts to reform a country with a timber sector known to be at least 80 percent illegal and gravely damaging Peruvian commitments in international trade agreements.
“By sacking this highly valuable public officer, President Humala seems to be trying to send a message to all the other public servants to not attempt to stop the illegal logging mafia,” said Julia Urrunaga, EIA’s Peru Program Director. “The many brave public officers, who remain committed to their mission, should not be underestimated. While many in the government continue to turn a blind eye to illegal logging, and sometimes act in collusion with the timber mafias, ongoing reform efforts will not be silenced.”
The Peruvian timber industry and the Peruvian timber exporters have been calling for Navarro’s termination for months – both publicly and in closed, high-level meetings – accusing him of “destroying” the sector mainly because his office’s field reports demonstrated the massive illegal timber laundering happening in the country. Instead of addressing the rampant illegal logging in the country, the Peruvian government has opted to silence dissent. The resolution firing Mr. Navarro occurs following a string of recent actions by OSINFOR, the Peruvian Revenue and Customs Agency (SUNAT), and environmental prosecutors to clamp down on illegal logging, including the seizure of large volumes of timber in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday, January 12. Dominican Republic judges and prosecutors acted in response to documentation produced by OSINFOR and communicated through the appropriate bilateral channels.
Media reports in the United States and Peru have also highlighted the September 2015 seizure of a massive shipment of Peruvian timber to the United States representing approximately three football fields of timber from the Amazon rainforest and currently being held in the U.S. port of Houston. The owners of the Peruvian exporting companies linked to this shipment are incredibly well-connected in Peru: economically through leadership of major industry associations like AIMAL (Asociación de Industriales Maderables y Afines de Loreto) and in the Peruvian Exporters Association (ADEX); politically through a former stint as President of the Chamber of Commerce in Loreto (Peru’s largest Amazon region); as well as on the ground in their own forest concessions. The owners of one of the exporters, Inversiones La Oroza, previously had one of its forest concessions annulled for laundering illegal timber, after authorities found planted, fake stumps placed in the field to mimic legal harvesting activities.
The second timber shipment, initially detained in Iquitos in November (and referenced above), which OSINFOR has already documented to be at least 71 percent of illegal origin is now nearing the United States after over a month of travel. OSINFOR has continued to process field investigations of the origin of the timber, based on declarations by the exporting companies, and will likely show increased rates of illegality. After being stopped by authorities in Brazil which confirmed the presence of illegal timber on board, the Yacu Kallpa, the same ship that delivered the contraband timber currently sitting in Houston, changed its ship flag and departed toward the Dominican Republic, where it was once again stopped by authorities. At the moment, the ship is still lingering in the Caribbean, and has been for weeks now, loaded with timber stolen from the Peruvian Amazon. If the Peruvian government now claims this timber is of legal origin, following the sacking of their own investigative authorities, they will be allowing the influence of the corrupt and fraudulent timber sector to win out over rigorously documented evidence by committed Peruvian government forest monitors.
Sources in Peru say the pressure to dismiss the leader of OSINFOR was orchestrated by groups who claimed further evidence of the timber sector illegality would tarnish the country’s image internationally and threaten the trade relationship with the United States. Peru and the United States are bound by a bilateral free trade pact, and expected to sign the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, which includes Pacific Rim nations, next month. The TPP contains binding provisions directed at combatting the illicit trade in timber and wildlife, but rather than a model of cooperation to clean up trade, the Peruvian forest sector remains rife with illegality despite U.S. Department of State reports that it has spent USD $70 million in Peru to reform forest governance. The U.S.-Peru FTA includes explicit requirements to guarantee the independence of OSINFOR.
Despite the powerful interests of Peru’s timber sector, efforts to support reform in Peru have not been in vain. For the past several years, OSINFOR has worked with Peruvian agencies such as SUNAT, the environmental prosecutors (FEMA), and the High Commissioner to fight Illegal Logging, as well as international groups like Interpol to positively transform Peru’s timber sector by exposing fraud and systematic laundering operations. Operativo Amazonas, carried out in 2014 found legal violations in over 93 percent of the operations, including trees harvested in non-authorized areas and more than 8,000 ‘fake trees’ on forest concessionaires’ inventories, created to provide seemingly legitimate paperwork for the massive supply of illegally harvested timber flowing out of the Peruvian Amazon. The results from a similar operation, Operativo Amazons II in 2015, documented that over 70 percent of the timber exported through the vessel Yacu Kallpa, mainly to Mexico and the United States, was illegally logged and laundered, though this percentage will most likely increase after pending field supervisions are conducted and incorporated.
The former Peruvian Prime Minister and Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Juan Jimenez, recently made a statement in Washington to the OAS Committee on Hemispheric Security, praising the efforts of OSINFOR and urging other countries across the Americas to aid in the fight against the illegal timber trade.
While these unprecedented investigations are being undermined by removing the head of the key institution, indigenous communities, protected areas, and even reserves for indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation continue to be ravaged by loggers searching deeper and deeper into the Amazon for precious timber. Those who stand up to these timber mafias are threatened, removed, or even assassinated.
Peru is poised to squander a historic opportunity to reform its timber sector and show world markets that the government is serious about stopping the timber mafias ravaging its forests and people. Sadly, there is no clearer signal than the President’s action today that Peru has instead opted to sacrifice its forests and the welfare of its people to entrenched, illicit business interests.
“The money which drives the crime and corruption that led to Rolando Navarro’s firing today comes from the United States, where much of the illegal wood is headed,” said Alexander von Bismarck, Executive Director of EIA. “If the U.S. does not immediately take action, the rhetoric of trade as a positive influence on countries losing their battle against corruption and stealing of natural resources will remain empty promises. Mr. Navarro leaves behind exhaustive field investigations and legal analysis carried out under his leadership, rigorously documenting the scale of illegal logging, which will continue to provide the key to clamping down on this illegal trade. United States enforcement officials now have the tools they need to stop the shipments on their way to the United States and, at least, end the role of the U.S. consumer in supporting this organized crime.”
Maggie Dewane, EIA Press Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1(202) 483-6621