Brazil arrests civil servants in crackdown on Amazon logging trade

Click to follow
The Independent US

The authorities in Brazil were hailing their latest attempt to bring an end to illegal logging of the Amazon rain forest after police arrested 89 people, of whom nearly half were civil servants in the government agency specifically charged with protecting it.

The authorities in Brazil were hailing their latest attempt to bring an end to illegal logging of the Amazon rain forest after police arrested 89 people, of whom nearly half were civil servants in the government agency specifically charged with protecting it.

Environmental groups around the world welcomed the crackdown as a sign that Brazil may at last be getting serious about halting the onslaught against the forest, one of the planet's most important, and most endangered, natural resources.

At the same time, however, the round-up bore testament to the extraordinary depth of greed, lawlessness and corruption that has been allowed to continue for years in Brazil right under the government's nose and, indeed, abetted by many of its own employees.

Among those arrested were 40 people who worked for Ibama, Brazil's environmental protection agency, including its top official in the state of Mato Grosso, on the southern fringe of the rainforest, where the worst of the destruction has occurred in recent years.

Also facing charges of illegal logging and related corruption were scores of businessmen and loggers. More arrests are expected with more than a hundred individuals targeted in the crackdown.

The government also closed down four logging firms as part of the sweep and vowed to increase monitoring of logging activities in the Amazon regions.

The plight of the forest has been an international concern since the Eighties when satellite pictures revealed the first evidence of its shrinkage before the chain saw. Pressure on Brazil's government to take action intensified recently as new statistics showed the destruction quickening.

"I am sure the decision to launch this plan now comes as a response to the deforestation figures," said Paulo Adario, Greenpeace's Amazon co-ordinator. "The initiative to carry out this operation is very important because it is part of cleaning up Ibama's image."

Last month, the government revealed that the rain forest shrank by 10,000 square miles in the 12 months to August last year. The figures were an embarrassing demonstration of the failure of earlier efforts at restraining the deforestation. Since 1990, loggers have illegally harvested timber worth at least $370m (£204m), some sold inside Brazil and the rest exported around the world.

The officials from Ibama are accused of turning a blind eye as loggers illegally cut a swath through 118,608 acres (48,000 hectares) of rain forest in the past two years, sometimes accepting large bribes in return for furnishing loggers with fake documents saying that the removal of the timber was legal.

The government was characterising many of those arrested as being part of a single gang that systematically plundered the rain forest. It was "made up of loggers and specialists in the illegal extraction and transport of timber who corrupted public officials at Ibama", a police statement said. Environmentalists argue that the rape of the forest has also been driven by an agricultural boom in Brazil, with farming interests pushing for clearing of the trees to plant cash crops, especially soybeans exported around the world for cattle feed.

It emerged that the government had been engaged in a nine-month investigation at the Mato Grosso office of Ibama. Its findings led to last week's arrests. The head of Ibama in the state, Hugo Jose Scheuer Werle, is charged with accepting bribes from loggers and reaping under-the-table gains during two years at the agency of about $425,000.

A 30-day freeze was meanwhile imposed on all transportation of felled timber in Mato Grosso.

Comments