Rising Eco-Trafficking Threatens Brazil Amazon

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Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon, which hit a low point in 2012, is on the rise again according to authorities, evidence of the difficulties of finding a sustainable solution to the threat posed by eco-traffickers and other actors pillaging the region’s natural resources.

Brazilian Environmental Minister Izabella Teixeira revealed that 5,843 square kilometers of Brazilian Amazon were deforested between August 2012 and July 2013, compared to 4,571 square kilometers in the same period the year before, representing a 28 percent increase, reported El Nuevo Herald. Much of the increase was attributed to the state of Para, with a 37 percent increase on the year before, and Mato Grosso, with a 52 percent increase.

The news reverses a trend of a overall decline in deforestation rates since 2004, with the country reporting the lowest level of deforestation since 1988 in November 2012.

Teixeira said the government had over 1,000 agents — including army, police and environmental prosecutors — working in the region to stop illegal activity and that authorities had carried out 3,921 investigations and 148 arrests related to deforestation so far this year.

InSight Crime Analysis

The most prominent interest cashing in on the major profits to be made in Brazil’s Amazon is illegal logging, accounting for up to 80 percent of all logging in the region, though the problem is also fuelled by ranchers and illegal miners.

Brazil has taken some measures to fight environmental crime, purchasing drones in 2011 to monitor deforestation and deploying troops to combat illegal mining and other illicit activities along the northern Amazon border as part of a security surge in 2012. However, a lack of drone presence in some affected regions has allowed illegal logging to continue apace, and even Peruvian gangs have now tapped into the trade

The heated conflict over land use in one of the world’s most biodiverse regions can be seen in the numerous, ongoing threats to land activists in Brazil’s Amazon, with over 1,000 killed in two decades by some estimates, and few convictions for the murders. Several activists were murdered in Para in 2011 and one campaigner was forced to flee her home in Amazonas in 2012. Most famously, a US nun and environmental activist was killed in 2005 for campaigning in the region.

The trend is not limited to Brazil — Latin America as a whole, with its wealth of natural resources, was recently labeled the most dangerous region in the world for environmentalists.

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