The Colombian military seized 450 tons of illegally felled timber in the Pacific port of Buenaventura, drawing attention to the country’s illicit logging industry.
The timber was seized between two separate shipments — one carrying 300 tons, the other 150 tons — in the port city on June 7, reported La Opinion.
Neither boat had the necessary license for felling and transporting the timber. According to the military, the wood may have been illegally logged in Tumaco, Nariño, in the country’s southwest.
No arrests have been reported. The maximum penalty for trafficking illegal timber is nine years, rising to 13 years if the timber is an endangered species.
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A 2006 study by the World Bank found that 42 percent of Colombia’s logging industry is illegal, which, according to the government’s sustainable forestry project, Gobernanza Forestal, may generate as much $200 million a year.
Despite the size of the industry, some say it is mainly driven by local communities rather than organized criminal groups. Former President Alvaro Uribe declared that there were “no big mafias” involved in the trade. However, current President Juan Manuel Santos stated last year that illegal logging was a priority for the government because it was funding criminal groups. Indeed, in light of the large profits to be made from the trade, as well as the logistics required to ship the product, organized crime is likely to have a significant stake.
One of the factors that may contribute to the illicit trade is tree-felling to plant coca crops. A 2011 report published by the Colombian government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) revealed that since 1981, over 800,000 hectares of forest had been illegally cut down in the country to make way for coca crops. The problem is so great that it led former Vice President Francisco Santos to claim, “If you snort a gram of cocaine, you are destroying 4 square meters of rainforest.”