*NEWS*RAINFOREST MAFIA

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*NEWS*RAINFOREST MAFIA

 user 2005-11-17 at 11:07:00 am Views: 60
  • #12972

    Rainforest mafia
    Amazon’s guardians facing death threats from illegal loggers ,Deadly battle with Amazon’s mafia
    Illegal
    logging in the Amazon is a huge business. The high stakes bring
    considerable danger and the constant threat of assassination for those
    trying to protect the environment.
    Twenty years ago, as we filmed
    Chico Mendes lead the fight to halt the devastation of the rainforest,
    we watched his aides taking precautions against the many threats on his
    life.
    Despite their efforts, Chico was gunned down in December 1988.
    Today
    there is a new arch-enemy for the illegal loggers in the Amazonian
    State of Rondonia. He is Walmir de Jesus, the regional head of Ibama,
    the enforcement agency of Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment.
    As we began filming him last year, the threats of assassination were equally frequent.
    “You
    can be sure that all the businessmen and ranchers who have received
    enormous fines from Walmir de Jesus,” one of his opponents warned us,
    “have a desire for his elimination.”
    Wide support
    Why is assassination so constant a threat for anyone defending the Amazon forest?
    The answer lies in the enormous interests involved.
    It is estimated that the Amazonian timber trade is worth close to $1bn (£574m), and that much of the trade is illegal.
    More
    than half the forest in Walmir’s state of Rondonia has already been cut
    down, and so most of the remaining, more valuable, timber is in the
    reserves which Walmir protects.
    They are under incessant pressure
    from the mafia of Amazonia and anyone who tries to prevent their
    looting is at considerable risk.
    Unlike most criminal organisations, the Amazonian mafia has wide popular support.
    When
    Walmir sent a team to inspect the sawmills in the town of Sao Domingos
    do Guapore – they were reported to be buying timber stolen from the
    reserves – his team was surrounded by 400 shopkeepers and townspeople.
    They were prevented from entering the timber yards.
    And
    when Walmir returned with an army convoy to enforce the inspection, he
    was challenged by the state’s political establishment.
    The reason is
    that much of Amazonia was opened up by illegal land-grabbers and
    loggers moving into the forest far ahead of the government.
    It was
    they who paved the way for local businesses and industries to establish
    themselves in the area and it is they who now dominate much of the
    regional politics.
    This is particularly true of the remoter areas
    where the outreach of the federal government has often been too weak to
    apply the law.
    Moneyed elite
    Last year, the Brazilian government announced a campaign to reduce deforestation by enforcing the country’s environmental laws.
    This
    was bound to produce a bitter and head-on confrontation with many of
    these local communities. The fines Walmir issued in towns like Sao
    Domingos bankrupted sawmills and put many people out of work.
    During
    2005, a new satellite system was introduced, enabling Walmir’s
    helicopter to reach areas of deforestation while the cutting of the
    trees was still in progress.
    Two of the fines we saw him issue were for between £200,000 and £300,000, more than enough to bankrupt most ranchers.
    And it is the ranchers who are the moneyed elite in most Amazonian communities.
    Finally,
    an operation mounted by the federal police arrested over 100 people -
    many in Walmir’s government department, Ibama – for corruption linked
    to forged documents for illegal timber sales.
    Burning battle
    Partly as a result of all this, the rate of deforestation in 2005 decreased by 40%.
    In
    reply, the loggers’ protests blocked highways all over Amazonia,
    paralysing transport, holding up thousands of trucks for many days on
    end and cutting off food from the state capitals.
    Political parties
    put pressure on the government and today, many vested interests in the
    Amazon regard Ibama – and its representatives like Walmir – as a direct
    threat to their economic survival.
    The battle for the world’s largest tropical forest is heating up.
    And
    in a country which has one of the world’s highest murder rates, it
    should be no surprise that environmental protection often leads to
    assassination.
    Earlier this year, Dorothy Stang, an American nun, tried to defend an environmental project in the eastern Amazon.
    As
    her paid assassins walked towards her, she pulled out her bible and
    read a few words… before their bullets left yet another martyr to the
    environment lifeless in the Amazon forest.