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EIA: Peru must guarantee safety of former forest inspector and his family, verify legal origin of timber exports

Rolando NavarroWASHINGTON, DC – Following today’s release of an Associated Press investigation into the illegal timber trade from Peru to the United States, the Environmental Investigation Agency requests the Peruvian government to provide for the safety of former chief forest inspector Rolando Navarro and his family, to ensure he can return to Peru after 15 months in exile.

During his tenure as president of the Peruvian forest oversight agency OSINFOR, Navarro and his team worked tirelessly to document and stop the illegal timber logging and trade in Peru, even in the face of threats to his life. His work culminated in the largest seizure of illegal Amazon forest timber in the United States in September 2015 through enforcement of the U.S. Lacey Act.

However, rather than cracking down on the rampant corruption and organized crime in the forest sector, Peru’s previous administration decided to “kill the messenger” and fired Rolando Navarro, whose agency OSINFOR was in charge of identifying the illegal harvesting.

Under Navarro’s leadership, OSINFOR provided irrefutable data to document the illegal origin of millions of dollars of timber being exported to the United States. An organized timber mafia responded by publicly burning coffins with his name, sending death threats, and fire bombing one of his regional offices. Most recently, a gunman approached his wife who was walking with his son and told her, “Your children are going to pay for the wood.”

EIA’s Executive Director Alexander von Bismarck said, “The Peruvian government, whose president has publicly announced that he will support the officers in their fight against corruption, must now guarantee the necessary safety for Rolando Navarro to be able to return to his country and his family.”

EIA also demands the U.S. and Peruvian governments strengthen efforts to fight the documented and ongoing illegal timber harvesting and international trade. Since 2014 Operation Amazonas, a special operation lead by the Peruvian customs office SUNAT, with the support of Interpol and the World Customs Organization, have demonstrated that it is feasible to verify the legal – or illegal – origin of timber being exported from Peru. In 2016, after Peru responded to a U.S. government petition by documenting that over 80% of a timber shipment to the United States in January 2015 was illegal, the Peruvian government committed to modify norms – including exports documents – to ensure traceability of the timber from harvest to export. This measure is still in process and must be implemented without delay.

In a world where end-markets are increasingly forbidding the trade of illegally harvested products, through laws such as the Lacey Act in the United States or the EUTR in Europe, countries whose timber shipments are known to have a high risk of illegality will eventually run out of destinations for their exports.

Von Bismarck continued, “A transparent, efficient system to show the correct origin of timber is both feasible and necessary to restore confidence in the Peruvian forestry sector. EIA is ready to help. But the first step must be to protect the heroes of Peru, like Rolando Navarro, who are fighting illegal logging in their own country.”

Maggie Dewane, EIA Press Officer, mdewane@eia-global.org, (202) 483-6621

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