Peru logging ban: Saving trees but boosting poverty
A new law, touted as the most advanced forestry law in Latin America, has its share of critics in Peru.
As the sun drops behind the trees towering above the town of Inapari, families promenade around the central plaza. Strolling is a major pastime in this town of approximately 800 residents, where there's no Internet, no movie theater, and one telephone.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite the laid-back air, this remote village in the Peruvian department of Madre de Dios, on the jungled border with Brazil and Bolivia, is the epicenter of a logging scandal that has rocked the region and prompted an overhaul of the Peruvian forestry industry.
Dubbed the biodiversity capital of Peru, Madre de Dios is most famous as the home of Manu National Park, Peru's largest national park and one of the densest wildlife areas in South America.
But beyond the tourist posters advertising jungle-lodge safari trips, Madre de Dios is a complex web of competing interests that show the difficulties faced by developing nations in striking a balance between environmental conservation and social development.
Though the Peruvian Amazon hasn't been as severely affected as areas in neighboring Brazil, where vast tracts of rain forest have been cleared for cattle ranching and agriculture, exploitation of the forest in one way or another is still the backbone of the region's economy.
"The town of Inapari, like the rest of Madre de Dios, depends directly or indirectly on the logging industry. Since [the government] annulled our logging contracts, we're not living, we're barely surviving," says Santiago Sols, Inapari's mayor.
The town's troubles began last October, when the Peruvian government declared the province of Tahuamanu -where Inapari is located -an environmental emergency zone and suspended all logging operations in the area.
The government says the drastic measures were necessary in the wake of massive illegal logging by a US firm and its Peruvian partner that destroyed much of the tropical forest and put uncontacted indigenous groups at risk.
But company representatives say the government is using an ecological smoke screen to distract attention from government corruption. Meanwhile, local residents say they are bearing the brunt of a series of measures that take environmental causes more to heart than their own survival.
Peru's National Institute for Natural Resources (Inrena) accuses Mississippi-based Newman Lumber and its Peruvian partner of illegally cutting millions of dollars worth of mahogany and cedar from some 100,000 hectares of forest in the province of Tahuamanu.
Forestry officials have called it the worst incident of deforestation in Peru. The government shut down the companies' sawmill in Inapari, annulled all logging contracts in the province, and sent soldiers to the area to seize illegally cut wood. Newman's partner was fined about $500,000.
"Newman Lumber was operating in an area not authorized for extraction. They built a huge highway without permission and robbed the wood from the entire area. Anyway you look at it, there were abuses and irregularities," says Luis Noboa, director of Inrena-Madre de Dios.
Company representatives deny the charges and are fighting the production stoppage in Peru's courts. Newman Lumber recently won a ruling in its favor from a Lima court, though the company has been unable to restart production.