• Agro
  • Civil Society
  • Disinformation
  • Exploitation & Control
  • Forests & Land Use
  • Geopolitics
  • Indigenous & Traditional Communities
  • Oil
  • Research
  • Violence
  • Water & Sanitation
  • Stakeholders
How Bolsonaro's Government is Fueling Illegal Logging in the Amazon

Illustration: cut logs surrounding the Brazilian Congress building

14 Dec 21

How Bolsonaro’s Government is Fueling Illegal Logging in the Amazon

Did you know that 70% of logging in the Amazonian state of Pará, one of the main wood producers in Brazil, is illegal? 

This data, from Instituto do Homen e Meio Ambiente da Amazonia (IMAZON), presented in a study published in 2020, helps us to understand the scale of the problem.

The theft of wood from public forests, federal conservation units and indigenous lands is part of an extensive chain of environmental crimes – such as deforestation and land grabbing –, marked by fraud, corruption, violence against indigenous peoples and death.


Theory vs Practice: The regulation of Logging in the Amazon

? In theory, logging in the Amazon is regulated by law and its cutting and transport only takes place after authorization from Organs licensing bodies through the so-called Sustainable Forest Management Plans (PMFS). Elaborated by a forest engineer, the role of the PMFS is to establish the exploration criteria for the area to be licensed. The document must include an inventory of the tree species present, in addition to indicating which trees will be removed and which will be kept for the preservation of the forest.

? In practice, however, the PMFS acts as the gateway to the chain of illegality in logging. Even though the document must be submitted to the competent state secretary for the environment and to the Brazilian Institute for the environment (IBAMA), in the case of federal areas.

? In order for criminals to obtain authorization for predatory exploitation, fictitious forest inventories are created, which are not compatible with the reality of the area. Commercially valuable trees are overestimated in volume and species are invented, for example, as a way to increase the legalized amount of wood to be removed from the forest.

? Amidst the difficulty and even the absence of inspection of the areas, added to the weakening of responsible environmental institutions and the corruption of agents in the inspection process, forged forest inventories pass without problems. With the fraudulent management plan approved, the loggers receive false credits that provide a legal basis for the stolen wood.

This is a brief summary of how the illegal timber wheel turns in the Amazon. To the delight of those who steal wood from the Amazon, the dismantling of federal structures for environmental protection promoted by the government has acted to facilitate the sale of illegal wood. In the Bolsonaro administration, the government acts in such a brazen way in favor of criminals that it seems to be a ready-made joke, one of those very boring.


Is the Ministry of Environment against the environment? 

? In February 2020, ?t the request of loggers associations, Eduardo Bim, then president of IBAMA, relaxed the rules for the export of native wood. Bim eliminated a legal barrier created by the agency itself and signed the order 7036900, which allows the export of native wood without requiring authorization from IBAMA. According to an article by @theintercepbrasil, companies whose request was granted by Eduardo Bim add up to R$ 15 million in environmental fines.

? At the end of the same year, Ricardo Salles, then Minister of the Environment (MMA)– acted against the biggest seizure of illegal wood in the history of Brazil, in an action led by the Brazilian Federal Police that confiscated 43,700 logs in the state of Pará. In addition to public criticism of Operation Handroanthus, Minister Salles met with criminals and acted to release the seized cargo. The minister played for the loggers team – and won. On May 5, the Federal Court of Amazonas ordered the release of part of the wood and machinery held by the Federal Police.

? Another way to encourage the illegal timber trade is to oppress environmental public servants who oppose the measures taken by the government. As a result of Salles’ maneuvers against Operation Handroanthus, the then superintendent of the Federal Police in Amazonas, Alexandre Saraiva, forwarded criminal news against the minister to the STF. The delegate was removed from office on the same day.


Illegal Logging and International Trade

The friendship between MMA and loggers was threatened in early 2021. On May 19, the Federal Police unleashed Operation Akuanduba, which investigates the export of illegal timber to the US and Europe, targeted the then Ministry of Environment Ricardo Salles, who had his fiscal and banking secrecy broken by the STF. Among the public agents removed on suspicion of involvement in the scheme are Eduardo Bim, president of IBAMA appointed by Salles, and Leopoldo Butkiewicz, special advisor to the minister.

Although most of the wood illegally extracted from the Amazon is destined for the internal market, of the total that ends up exported, around 90% comes from illegal sources, according to statements by the Federal Police and the Association of Career Servers of Specialists in the Environment of the Federal District

This is an example of the critical role Brazil plays in the international market. As the product is not seen by importing countries as a “competing product”, such as soybeans, but as an input, it is possible to say that there is less resistance to illegal exploitation, without stricter requirements to guarantee its origin. According to Alexandre Saraiva, PF delegate from Amazonas exonerated by Ricardo Salles, for their illegal origin, noble Amazon species, such as the ipê, have been sold for a negligible price on the international market, as a result of the connivance of buyers.


And who are the international accomplices of this illegal chain?

??? The US is the main international buyer of illegal Amazon timber. According to data from the Brazilian Federal Police, between 2017 and 2020, R$ 90 million in illegal wood were exported to the country. Currently, with the favorable exchange rate for purchases and the high demand for native wood in the US, the purchase of illegal Brazilian wood should be on the rise there. As an aggravating factor, we have the lack of inspection of origin, the disruption of control agencies and the drop in environmental fines in Brazilian territory.

Triggered by the Federal Police, Operation Akuanduba revealed that the US embassy tried to alert IBAMA about the problem throughout 2020, but was ignored. On the contrary, Eduardo Bim, then president of the agency, intervened to convince the customs authorities of the legality of the seized cargo. The order signed by Bim in February 2020, which authorizes the export of native wood without the requirement of authorization from IBAMA, appears precisely in this context.

Even though the international market has a fundamental role in pressuring the State to guarantee the legality of exported wood, it is necessary to reinforce that the biggest obstacle in the fight against deforestation and illegal wood trade continues to be the Brazilian government itself.


Written by Julia Alves. Adapted to English by Marianna Olinger

Link successfully copied!