2005-11-17 at 11:07:00 am #12972
Amazon’s guardians facing death threats from illegal loggers ,Deadly battle with Amazon’s mafia
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
Despite their efforts, Chico was gunned down in December 1988.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
This is particularly true of the remoter areas
where the outreach of the federal government has often been too weak to
apply the law.
Last year, the Brazilian government announced a campaign to reduce deforestation by enforcing the country’s environmental laws.
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.
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.
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.
Partly as a result of all this, the rate of deforestation in 2005 decreased by 40%.
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.
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.
in a country which has one of the world’s highest murder rates, it
should be no surprise that environmental protection often leads to
Earlier this year, Dorothy Stang, an American nun, tried to defend an environmental project in the eastern Amazon.
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.