Illegal timber trafficking encourages other crimes such as deforestation, labor exploitation, land trafficking and invasion, tax evasion, document falsification, and state corruption.
Illegal logging is the most profitable crime against natural resources in the world and the third largest crime in the world, according to the report entitled "Transnational Crime and the Developing World" published in March 2017 by Global Financial Integrity, a US organization that investigates illicit financial flows.
The value of profits generated by this transnational crime worldwide is calculated between US $ 52 billion to US $ 157 billion a year, according to the aforementioned investigation. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that 30% of all wood traded in the world is illegal.
Insight Crimen, a research center on organized crime, considers that the Amazon is the eye of the storm for illegal logging. Logging, along with illegal mining and drug trafficking, are the most investigated crimes in Latin America.
Latin American forests are second to be affected by illegal logging after Asian forests, according to UNEP. In 2014 alone, the total export value of illegal raw and sawn timber from South America reached US $ 387 million on average, according to the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO).
Rolando Navarro, a researcher at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), who has closely analyzed illegal timber trafficking at the South American level revealed toAllied Newsthat "more than 75% of the wood that is traded in South America, both domestically and for export, is not legal."
The scale of the volumes of wood that are traded illegally in Latin America is incredible. At the end of 2012, the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) confiscated more than 50,000 m³ of illegal timber, estimated at around US $ 8 million, as a result of the LEAF Project (Law Enforcement Assistance in Forest Matters) carried out in 12 countries Latin Americans.
The illegal timber trade is a complex organized crime and has many crimes that follow one another like the growth rings of a tree.
Alicia Abanto, deputy for the Environment, Public Services and Indigenous Peoples of the Ombudsman's Office of Peru, commented to Noticias Aliadas that the trafficking of wood is linked to crimes such as deforestation, labor exploitation, trafficking and invasion of land, tax evasion, falsification of documents, state corruption and even the assassination of forest protection leaders.
"These crimes also persist in the rest of Latin American and Caribbean countries, although with a greater incidence in the Amazon due to the great forest cover that exists," Abanto said. “A common situation is that illegal timber trafficking begins with logging by peasants or indigenous people who have been hired by a logging businessman. Many times they do not know that what they are doing is illegal and businessmen take advantage of it ”.
Multi-million dollar earnings
The secret to the profitability of illegal logging and trafficking is cost-benefit. Let's look at the monetary dimension of this criminal business throughout the wood production cycle until it is exported: a logger earns an average of US $ 70 per m³ of Peruvian mahogany; However, the exporter of the same wood earns US $ 1,804 per cubic foot (0.028 m³), on the other hand, importers earn up to US $ 3,170 per m³, according to Insight Crime.
"In the midst of all the illegal timber circulation, taxes are being evaded," Abanto said.
Navarro, for his part, specified that from the most commercialized timber species in Peru, it is possible to deduce the species most requested by the illegal trade in South America. The lack of information on the illegal timber trafficking circuit is one of the obstacles to tackling the crime in question.
The most traded species include the following:cumala (Virola sp.), screw(Cedrelinga catenaeformis),capinuriorchimicua (Clarisia biflora), lupuna(Chorisia integrifolia),capirona (Calycophyllum spruceanum),shihuahuaco(Coumarouna odorata),hookah(Cariniana domesticata),copaiba (Copaifera reticulata);cumala (Virola sebifera) andcatahua (Hura crepitans).
The modalities and impacts of illegal timber trafficking are also present in Central America and the Caribbean.
The research “A spatio-temporal analysis of forest loss related to cocaine trafficking in Central America”, published in May 2017 by the scientific portal IOPscience refers to the loss of Central American forests driven by cocaine trafficking. Due to this illegal activity, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua have lost between 15% and 30% of their forests annually in the last decade, the research indicates. Among other countries whose forests are affected by cocaine trafficking are Costa Rica, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a US organization that studies illegal timber trafficking, shared information withAllied Newssome scope to understand the dimension of illegal trafficking in Latin America.
Mexico is one of the Latin American countries that acquires large quantities of wood "at risk of forest illegality in its value chain," according to information shared by Julia Urrunaga, Peru director of EIA. Almost all of the wood that Mexico imports comes from Brazil and Peru.
According to information published by IUFRO, based on data from the World Bank for 2006, the estimated percentages of illegal logging in Latin American countries are: Bolivia (80%), Amazonia of Brazil (20% -47%), Colombia (42%), Ecuador (70%).
Although in the case of Peru the figure was 80% in 2006. Navarro pointed out that this percentage has already increased. "I would dare to say that more than 90% of the wood that is traded in Peru is illegal," said the CIEL researcher.
Formula for illegal wood washing
The most recent EIA study entitled "The Moment of Truth: Opportunity or Threat for the Peruvian Amazon in the Fight Against the Illegal Timber Trade", published in January 2018, sheds some light on the scene of illegal timber laundering. .
In this investigation, only the wood exports from Peru that left in 2015 through Callao, the country's main port, were analyzed and it was determined that 17% of the wood extraction points are of illegal origin; 16% of legal origin and 67% of imprecise origin, but there are indications that it is also illegal, according to Julia Urrunaga, director of EIA in Peru.
The investigation also determined that the countries to which Peru exports its timber, including that of illegal origin, are China, the Dominican Republic, the United States, Mexico, France, Cuba, South Korea, Belgium, Puerto Rico, Australia, Taiwan, Spain, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, Canada, Israel and Japan.
The formula for washing wood in Peru, and which is also reproduced in other Latin American countries, is by presenting false information, that is, in front of the forest authority, lists of trees to be extracted are shown that do not exist in the real world, and the authorities authorize the extraction of wood that does not exist in the concession, is explained in the investigation "The washing machine: How fraud and corruption in the concession system are destroying the future of Peru's forests" by EIA, published in 2012 , regarding how the origin of illegal timber in Peru is concealed.
"Backed by these volumes, the corresponding permits are sold on the black market and used to launder illegally extracted timber from any other part of the country - protected areas, indigenous territories, other state lands," the study specified.
Among the measures that the Latin American states should promote, Abanto pointed out, "is the promotion of collective titling of indigenous lands to stop land trafficking, which is often linked to illegal logging."
In the Peruvian case, one of the most serious in Latin America, "the State must honor the forestry agreement specified in the Free Trade Agreement with the US so that all the wood exported to the US is legal," said Abanto.
The US government even sent a letter to Eduardo Ferreyros, Peru's Minister of Commerce and Tourism, on February 26, asking him to verify the cargo of three companies that exported wood to the US throughout 2017.
This is not the first time that has happened, Abanto said. The official letters from the US are due to the antecedents of Peruvian companies linked to the export of illegal timber. The most famous case was revealed in 2015 with Operation Amazonas when the Yacu Kallpa ship was intervened. It was determined by investigations after the police operation that more than 91% of their cargo was of illegal origin.
According to Navarro, among the countries that put the least restrictions on the entry of illegal timber are China, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, just the nations that top the list of Peruvian timber importing countries.
“A regional coordination of countries is needed to effectively confront illegal timber trafficking. It cannot be done if there is no action against the mafias and a government weakness ”, Abanto exhorted.
By Milton López Tarabochia