The Brazilian government has launched a new anti-logging security force unit in an attempt to tackle a lucrative criminal trade that has turned Brazil into one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists.
The Brazilian Ministry of Justice, working with the Ministry of the Environment and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), has announced the creation of a new Environmental Operations Unit of the National Public Security Force, which is made up mainly of Military Police.
The new 200-strong unit will be posted at key strategic points along the smuggling trail for illegal timber in the Amazon rainforest to carry out surveillance and control of illegal logging activities. It will supplement the National Force’s current efforts to combat the trade, which since 2008 have seen them seize more than 1 million cubic meters of wood, 300 chainsaws and 200 tractors, according to the Ministry of Justice.
The new force will be backed by a $10 million investment from Brazil’s Amazon Fund — set up to tackle rainforest deforestation — which will be used to purchase equipment needed to operate in isolated jungle territories and to fund operations targeting illegal loggers.
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Illegal logging accounts for up to 80 percent of all logging activity in Brazil, according to the government’s own estimates, and it is the primary driver of the country’s sky high deforestation levels.
The profits on offer have created a powerful criminal class operating in isolated corners of the Amazon, whose easy use of violence to silence informants and activists has made Brazil the most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists. According to a report by Global Witness, a UK-based human rights and environmental NGO, between 2002 and 2013, at least 448 environmentalists and land rights activists were murdered in Brazil, the majority related to logging. Just one percent of cases resulted in a conviction.
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In recent years, the Brazilian authorities have begun to act against these networks, and the creation of a specialist anti-logging unit follows on from other actions such as the deployment of troops to logging hotspots, the use of drones to monitor deforestation and the drafting of regulations to try and prevent the export of illegal timber (pdf).
Together, these actions place Brazil at the fore when it comes to tackling eco-trafficking in the region, an issue which is rarely prioritized by governments. However, the scale of the task the Brazilians face is huge, the size of the rainforest and the jungle terrain make for a logistical nightmare, while the networks behind the trade are firmly entrenched and are often protected by corrupt contacts as well armed thugs.