A new investigation by the Associated Press has shed additional light on how corruption and lack of political will act as prime drivers of Peru's lucrative illegal logging trade, with detrimental impacts on both security and the environment.
Despite efforts to combat the crime, an estimated 600 square miles of forest are logged illegally in Peru every year, the AP reported.
Corruption is a key contributing factor. For years, forestry officials have produced documents to falsify the origins of illegally harvested wood. Forest service spokeswoman Lissete Herrera told the Associated Press that one in seven of the more than 150 officials currently licensed to sign such permits is being investigated.
Lack of enforcement capacity and political will are also crucial drivers. To date, there have been no convictions under a 2015 anti-illegal logging law that established an eight-year maximum prison sentence for those convicted of the crime, the AP reported.
The AP also reported that Rolando Navarro, the former chief of Peru's forest inspection service who had led several important operations against illegal logging, was fired in January 2016 by former President Ollanta Humala. Shortly thereafter, Navarro fled to the United States after receiving death threats. Peruvian officials reportedly described his dismissal as motivated by the need for a "fresh face."
Things have not looked brighter under current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. Upon assuming office, Kuczynski dissolved the office of the illegal logging czar, while efforts to develop a GPS tree-identification system and create a drone inspection fleet have stalled.
An estimated 80 percent of timber exports from Peru are illegal, according to a joint study by the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Forest (Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana - AIDESEP) and the Forest Peoples Programme.
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To be sure, illicit logging is not the only criminal activity posing threats to both Peru's environment and the country's security. Authorities have also struggled to contain illegal mining and the drug trade. But illegal logging is particularly profitable for crime groups.
In fact, a recent report from Global Financial Integrity (GFI) found illegal logging to be the most profitable natural resource crime, and estimated the illicit industry generates between $52 and $157 billion in annual revenues. The reason for its profitability is that it is very cost effective. Loggers, who are usually members of indigenous communities, earn about $70 per cubic meter of Peruvian mahogany, according to GFI. But as the wood travels along the supply chain, exporters earn $1,804 per cubic feet -- a 2,477 percent increase when compared to the illegal logger's revenues -- while importers earn $3,170 per cubic meter, an exorbitant 5,200 percent increase.
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Illegal logging has also been linked to violence. Poor illegal loggers are often just pawns in the lumber trade, and those who attempt to fight against criminal groups do so at their own risk -- as the murder of four indigenous men allegedly by the hands of illegal loggers in September 2014 showed.
In addition to threatening the environment and security, illegal logging also poses serious challenges for Peru's economy. During the past two years, the Associated Press reported, the country's logging industry lost an estimated $140 million in sales due bad publicity surrounding illegal logging.