• Connect with us on Linkedin

Drug Traffickers Take Note of Peru's Illegal Timber Trade

Timber traffickers in Peru have built a huge logistical network for bribing officials and moving illegally harvested wood out of the country, and now drug traffickers are taking advantage of this to move their own product.

Linkedin
Google +

About 80 percent of Peru's total timber exports are illegal, bringing in profits of up to $72 million a year, according to the World Bank. As watchdog group the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) points out in a new report, traffickers can earn $1,700 for every high-quality mahogany tree sold in the Peruvian black market, and about $1,000 for a cedar tree.

The report, titled "The Laundering Machine: How Fraud and Corruption in Peru's Concession System are Destroying its Forests," says that Peru's logging industry is controlled by a small group of "timber barons." These businessmen rely on a wide network of collaborators, from the local bosses who hire loggers, often under cruel conditions close to forced labor, to the traders who submit false export permits to government authorities, to the truckers and boatmen who move the wood out of the Amazon.

The sheer number of actors involved in the business of illegally exporting wood is just one of its similarities with the drug trade.·Both businesses involve buying the complicity of public officials, and designing elaborate schemes for shipping the product undetected out of the source country.·And, as the EIA observes, both illicit industries are driven by powerful economic incentives. Because protected wood like mahogany and cedar fetches such high prices on the international market, and because violators of the law are rarely prosecuted, traffickers see the illicit wood trade as a good bet.

There is evidence of deepening connections between the trade in illicit wood and the trade in drugs. According to a 2006 US State Department cable released by whistleblower site WikiLeaks, Andean drug traffickers who move coca paste and opium are increasingly interested in timber, since they can use the same networks to transport both products. Timber is also useful for disguising drug shipments. Such seizures are common in Peru, with police reporting seizures of hundreds of kilos of coca base and cocaine hidden in wood shipments. As the cable notes:

The transported mahogany trunks, or stacked loads of sawn lumber, are so huge, and the number of shipments so massive that police catch only a tiny fraction of the coca that they estimate is transported from the Andes downriver to Brazil. DEA's Lima Country Office -- which actively assists [Peruvian] law enforcement in eliminating the concealment of illicit drugs in wood shipments, believes that suspected shipments are large.

The most prominent case illustrating the nexus between the drug and timber trades came with the 2008 arrest of Luis Valdez Villacorta, mayor of Pucalipa, to the east of the country. At the time, Peruvian law enforcement described him as their most important capture since airline kingpin and alleged cocaine trafficker Fernando Zevallos was detained in 2005.

Pucalipa is one of the most strategically important cities for Peru's timber trade, where lumber is bought, sold, and moved via truck over the Andes. Peruvian law enforcement discovered 523 kilos of cocaine hidden in a plywood shipment in 2003, and traced the drug back to one of Valdez's businesses. When he was arrested five years later, investigators seized 34 properties, 44 boats, and 200 vehicles. Police said he had a total of $71 million in assets, whose origin could not be properly accounted for -- a measure of just how lucrative his timber-drug network was. According to a 2008 US State Department cable, Valdez controlled the major drug trafficking routes from Peru into Brazil, and used the logistical and commercial networks in his timber business to move cocaine.

Peru's illegal logging trade causes massive environmental damage, is driven by forced labor, and feeds corruption and violence. The costs are already high, and the fact that traffickers are also taking advantage of the illicit timber network to move narcotics is one more incentive for importers to be wary of Peruvian-sourced wood. But as with illicit drugs, the appetite for high-value wood like mahogany is large, and the number one customer is the US.

Linkedin
Google +

---

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We also encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, provided that it is attributed to InSight Crime in the byline, with a link to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

InSight Crime Search

The Complete Organized Crime Database on the Americas

InSight Crime Social

facebooktwittergooglelinkedin

InSight Crime Special Series

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

Los Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

After the capture of Zetas boss "Z40," Nuevo Laredo is bracing itself for the worst. This investigation breaks down what makes the city such an important trafficking corridor, and what it will take for the Zetas to maintain their grip on the city.

See entire series »

 

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill

Uruguay: Marijuana, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to regulate the production, sale, and distribution of the drug.

See entire series »

El Salvador's Gang Truce

El Salvador's Gang Truce

The truce between El Salvador's two largest gangs -- the MS-13 and the Barrio 18 -- opens up new possibilities in how to deal with

See entire series »

Juarez After The War

Juarez After The War

As a bitter war between rival cartels grinds to an end, Ciudad Juarez has lost the title of world murder capital, and is moving towards something more like normality.

See entire series »

The Zetas And The Battle For Monterrey

The Zetas and the Battle for Monterrey

InSight Crime delves into the Zetas' battle for Mexico’s industrial capital, Monterrey, getting to the essence of a criminal gang that defies easy definition.

See entire series »

Slavery in Latin America

Slavery in Latin America

InSight Crime coordinated an investigation into modern slavery, looking at how Latin America’s criminal groups traffic human beings and force them to work as slaves.

See entire series »

FARC, Peace and Criminalization

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is being dangled before Colombia. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, the enemies of the negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the process are high.

See entire series »

Displacement in Latin America

Displacement in Latin America

InSight Crime coordinated an investigation into the new face of displacement in Latin America, where organized criminal groups are expanding and forcing people to flee.

See entire series »

Target: Migrants

Target: Migrants

The growth of organized crime in Mexico and Central America has led to an increase in violence and insecurity across the region, posing challenges to citizens, public security forces, and travelers.

See entire series »

Zetas in Guatemala

The Zetas in Guatemala

Mexico's Zetas have taken Guatemala by storm, and they are testing this country and the rest of the region: fail this test, and Central America sinks deeper into the abyss.

See entire series »

Most Read

Alleged Salvadoran Kingpin 'Chepe Diablo' Clears Tax Debt

Alleged Salvadoran Kingpin 'Chepe Diablo' Clears Tax Debt

Alleged Texis Cartel founder "Chepe Diablo" has nearly completed paying off his tax evasion debt to the government, and there is still no sign that the Salvadoran government intends to bring drug charges against the...

Read more

Who is Behind Honduras Morgue Massacre?

Who is Behind Honduras Morgue Massacre?

The massacre of eight people at a morgue in Honduras' most dangerous city serves as a brutal reminder of the violence that continues to plague the country, often committed by organized crime groups.

Read more

Pijarbey

Pijarbey

Martin Farfan Diaz Gonzalez, alias "Pijarbey" is a powerful criminal operative in Colombia's Eastern Plains region. He is the leader of the Libertadores del Vichada, a splinter group of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of...

Read more

Latest Criminal Profile