Timber Trafficking in the Amazon

by Fellipe Abreu

Peru is nowadays one of the great exporters of hardwood in South America, and according to experts, the activity has already occurred in the country since the beginning of the 20th century. By the 60's the departments of Cusco and Ucayali emerged as the great explorers of wood. But as happened with coca cultivation, logging expanded into the Amazon region in the 1980s and 1990s (especially in the departments of Madre de Dios and Loreto), in search of land not yet exploited and rich in hardwood .

This migration of logging activity in the Amazon did not only find new areas rich in mahogany and cedar, but also encountered a large number of peasant and indigenous communities around it, which until now live with both this problem and the total inaction of the Peruvian government to control it.

The national entity responsible for both the concessions and the monitoring of the activity, admits that there is illegal extraction, in a percentage between 30% and 40%, in fact this number will be higher, and this activity is often associated with money laundering resulting from drug trafficking.

This photographic work results from a period of almost three months spent on the border between Brazil and Peru, in the area where the Javari River delimits the natural border between the two countries. There are several indigenous communities of the Matsés and Marubo ethnic groups, coca crops and timber communities. Some of these illegally extract wood in the Amazon jungle. In most of the Peruvian Amazon there are concessions for the exploitation of wood, but not in this zone. Even if a concession exists, is forbidden to work with wood, because it is an area protected by law. A law that does not apply. The inspection does not exist and the Peruvian police are aware of all this activity, not acting in exchange for bribes.

On the Brazilian side, although more fiscalized, the situation is also unclear, as well as an illegal overthrow. The process to cut hundreds of tall trees is during the dry season to cut as much wood as possible by joining it in igarapés (the streams that will fill up when the rains come). The many hundreds of logs start there a downward journey down the Javari River to confluence areas, where the timber communities are located. The river, being international territory, causes that the provenience of the wood is no longer known. Indigenous communities once again see their ecosystem being affected by being constantly invaded by a number of activities, such as mining, drug trafficking or logging. These people often opt to negotiate the exchange of trees slaughtered by an economic counterpart or in exchange for essential goods, sometimes offered by public officials who hunt and cut timber in the heart of the Amazon jungle.