Looking for the Bright Side of the Darién Gap

May 07, 2019 | Pulitzer Centre

By Guido BILBAO

This is a short article produced as one of the Pulitzer Centre’s Shorthand Stories series. We are grateful to Guido Bilbao for permission to reproduce the article here. The article leads via a link in the final sentence to an excellent multimedia report which we encourage all our readers to visit for a very informative experience. The project which is the subject of this report was supported by the Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting.  

Key words: deforestation; Darién Gap; illegal logging; land ownership; indigenous peoples; mapping with drones.

Darién is subject to a chilling spate of deforestation as timber colonists and entrepreneurs advance across the region. The Darién’s mythical wilderness is giving way to chainsaws and bulldozers. Image by Guido Bilbao. Panama, 2019.

Darién is a land full of challenges. First and foremost is the advance of loggers and settlers who threaten its tropical forests. Land ownership, constantly changing, has direct consequences on the health of the forest. That is why we embarked on a story that, through the indigenous people who organise to defend it, goes through the different forces that threaten their survival.

First we mapped the growing deforestation and declining forest cover that has evolved over the last 17 years. The result was overwhelming. Although we knew about the height of the felling, we did not imagine such a dramatic result. We were still prisoners of the general view of a forgotten place that always remains the same over time. Well, no. The effects reach the deepest areas of a forest that is the bridge of biodiversity between South America and Central America. Although here the Pan-American Highway is interrupted, the truth is that the opening of the Darién gap is in fact taking place.

The map shows us that the legalized indigenous territories have a more robust forest cover than the non-indigenous territories, or even protected areas. Then, we sought to define the areas in conflict, and we found that the dispute over untitled lands also defines how the tropical forest will be used. We worked together with the team of indigenous drone pilots and mappers to create a map of land ownership that shows how indigenous peoples with legalized territory are much more efficient than the central government and its system of protected areas to take care of the forest. We also defined the lands being claimed by communities that are inside national parks. We came to the determination that there are 650,000 hectares in dispute for which the Ministry of the Environment of Panama does not want to respond.

Once we defined the areas where deforestation was concentrated and where there were conflicts between settlers and indigenous peoples, we tried to explain how the logging business works. This is how we found the business around companies that use micro-titling of land in the name of poor peasants and then build enormous latifundios without having paid for those territories. 

For the Panamanian government, deforestation is an improvement of the land. In this way the felling is rewarded. And businessmen take advantage of legal loopholes to advance over a territory where the presence of the Panamanian State is nil. Through exhaustive searches in the Public Registry, we discovered the titling of 2,000 hectares in indigenous territory that were carried out over two years in more than 40 different deeds. And with that land as collateral the businessmen got mortgages from state banks. To verify these payments we accessed the records of the Ministry of Agricultural Development where we found payments to these companies for $2 million over the past 10 years – more than 60 orders of payments for smaller sums that together build a small fortune.

However, we understood while doing the fieldwork that we did not want to continue abusing the myth of the cursed and wild land. Like a 21st-century Old West or a tropical Siberia, the myth of the wild Darién has grown since ancient times. But when visiting the communities and in spite of the threats of the settlers and the logging, despite the poverty and absence of the State, we found that there was a vitality and a work of great commitment to defend the forest and their cultural heritage. The historical narrative about Darien is full of tragedies and barbarities. But it is a story without heroes. And in these times of climate change and environmental apocalypse we wanted to highlight the work of all these communities that, against all odds, defend the tropical forest. Therefore, without losing sight of the weight of the investigation, we decided to change the focus to highlight the work of these defenders of Darién who risk their lives to try to prevent further deforestation, since they understand that the disappearance of the forest means the disappearance of their culture.

When setting up the transmedia project, we did it following the research process. We narrated the myth of the accursed Darién, explained the legal situation of the land, then the wood business and widespread corruption, to end up telling the story of the defenders of the Darién in a 10-minute mini-documentary.

We built a trailer to promote the transmedia project that you can navigate here in English and Spanish.

Guido Bilbao was born in Argentina where he majored in journalism. He has worked in his home country, Spain, and in Panamá where he has lived for 15 years. His writing has appeared in El País, Le Monde Diplomatique Berlín, La Prensa Panamá and La Nación Argentina. He has also directed documentaries for Al Jazeera International. His first documentary ‘Time to Love: A Backstage Tale’ was screened at the Lincoln Centre in March 2017.

UNES exposes illegal logging

Sources: Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES, http://www.unes.org.sv/2019/02/22/justicia-resarcimiento-danos-cerro-aguila/) and La Prensa Gráfica, 21 February 2019.

Key words: Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES); illegal logging; hydrological crisis.

The Salvadoran Ecological Unit (UNES) has alerted Salvadoran society to serious environmental damage caused in the Apaneca-Ilamatepec Biosphere Reserve within the Cerro El Aguila Protected Natural Area in the departments of Sonsonate and Santa Ana. The El Aguila range is the most important area for water provision in the country and provides shelter for hundreds of species of flora and fauna.

Since mid-February about five manzanas (approx. eight acres) have been deforested including some mature trees over a meter and a half in diameter. Such a level of felling will affect the area’s ability to absorb water, warned UNES. The police have verified that the felling was conducted illegally.

Foto de LA PRENSA/Marcos Salguero
“Aproximadamente cinco manzanas de bosque han sido destruidas” en el cerro El Águila, advirtió hoy la Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (UNES).

A representative of UNES commented: “We are in a country facing a serious hydrological crisis, we are the second most deforested country; the government must apply its conservation and protection policies. We are one of the 15 most vulnerable countries in the world as regards the threat of natural phenomena and we have sparse vegetative cover.” She added, “This case is yet another example of the State’s institutional weakness in matters environmental.”

UNES called on the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle Ranching (MAG) to carry out their duties to protect and conserve environmental resources and to investigate this destruction. Additionally, the Human Rights Ombudsman, Raquel Caballero, has called for protective measures for the municipal leaders of Juayúa and of the Sonsonate Roundtable for Sustainability who are now at risk after denouncing the felling.

Note: UNES also features in the Interviews/Entrevistas section of this website through an interview with former UNES officer, Carlos Flores.

Assassinated members of the Olancho Environmental Movement

This figure is referred to in the book as Box 6.1 (Page 112)

The original version of this text box included the names of the intellectual authors of the assassinations listed. Understandably, Pluto Press would not include these names and altered the table to the version which appears in the book. We were hoping to include the original here in the website, but have been strongly advised to add nothing more than has already appeared in the book version.

Box-6.1-cleaned-up-version-page-001-880x1024

Illegally logged precious wood seized, Nicaragua

A joint operation by the Nicaraguan Navy, National Forest Institute and the National Police seized 20,000 board feet of illegally logged precious wood in the South Caribbean Autonomous Region near La Ceiba. Three people were detained. The captured wood included mahogany and granadillo.

Among its other duties, the Nicaraguan Navy is charged with protecting Nicaragua’s environment. Unrestrained illegal logging was a particular problem in the 1990s during which a flight over Nicaragua’s southern rainforest revealed many clear-cut areas thinly surrounded by a screen of trees.

Expansion of the agricultural frontier for farming and ranching is another threat to Nicaragua’s remaining rainforest.


Sources:

El Nuevo Diario (Managua), February 12, 2018.

NicaNotes by the Nicaragua Network and the Alliance for Global Justice, February 14, 2018.

Honduran death squad escapes justice

In December 2006 two members of the MAO (Environmental Movement of Olancho), Roger Iván Murillo and Francisco Heraldo Zúñiga, were assassinated in a death squad execution style killing. They were killed for their part in defending the forests of the department of Olancho in Honduras against illegal timber felling. Both men had received death threats from logging companies. (For more background on this struggle by Olancho’s environmentalists see ENCA Newsletters 42, 44 and 45.)

1-300x199The four assassins who carried out the machine gun execution were members of the local police – Linton Omar Cáceres Rodríguez, Rolando Antonio Tejeda Padilla, Juan José Talavera Zavala and José Arcadio González. Despite a history of impunity for those who commit such crimes in Honduras, the four were detained and were convicted by a Honduran court on 1st July this year.

They were to be sentenced on 15 August and faced up to 30 years in prison. After the conviction they were detained by Brigade 115 of the Honduran army whilst awaiting individual sentencing. In early August two of the convicted, Cáceres and Talavera escaped and a few days later González also fled. As the MAO said on hearing the news: “It is inexplicable that after being found guilty these men were given so many privileges, when by our standards they should have been behind the bars of a maximum security prison because of the danger they represent to society, in particular to the relatives of the murdered environmentalists.”

The MAO has asked a series of other questions about their escape: Who is it that wo2-300x278uld want us to2nd July in Olancho: Linton Omar Cáceres (in the middle) and Juan José Talavera (on the phone) in army custody believe that they escaped on their own? Who is it who has helped them to escape justice? Who is behind their escape? Is it the same people who Who was responsible at the Brigade 115 installation when they escaped? Where were these people when they escaped?

ENCA has written a letter to President Mel Zelaya urging him to initiate a thorough investigation into who was responsible for these escapes and to do all he can to ensure that justice is served in this case. The MAO has also demanded that the case of the assassinations be kept open in order to determine the intellectual authors of the original crime.

Living on the Front Line

Honduras: Murder never went away

October, 07 2008 | By Alison Bracken* | Source: Le Monde Diplomatique | Reprinted from ZNet

Life is cheap in Honduras and those who defend human rights themselves need protection – sometimes armed protection, reluctantly supplied by the government.

The young soldier stands nonchalantly outside a front gate, AK47 over one shoulder as he chats on his mobile while keeping an eye on the street. “No, I’m not afraid to use it,” he says, so bemused by the question that he lowers his sunglasses. “I’ve been well-trained. It’s an honour to protect Padre Tamayo. He protects the environment and helps the community. No one’s attacked him while I’ve been working.”

Gustavo Alberto Ordonez, 19, is one of 10 armed soldiers who guard Padre Tamayo, the renowned priest and environmental leader in Honduras. The armed guards are a necessary precaution. The priest has a $40,000 bounty on his head and has survived four kidnap and murder attempts, including an incident in 2006 where a live grenade was forced into his mouth.

He is a member of MAO, the Environmental Movement of Olancho, an area of the country with vast forests. The group supports responsible deforestation but opposes the current situation, in which international logging companies were given free rein by government to strip the forests bare of timber, destroying the natural environment and its water sources. Local communities do not benefit from this development, but are hired as cheap labour, and the timber is immediately shipped out of the country. Continuous flooding because of extensive deforestation is a major problem: the memory of the devastation Hurricane Mitch caused in 1998 is still fresh in people’s minds.

The group defends the rights and land of locals in these communities by blocking roads, initiating strikes and publicly denouncing abuses by logging companies. Because it challenges powerful economic interests, its members have been murdered, attacked and intimidated. In December 2006 two of Padre Tamayo’s MAO colleagues, Heraldo Zúñiga and Roger Ivan Cartagena, were murdered by national police agents outside the mayor’s office in Guarizama, in front of local people. Just two days before his murder, Zúñiga had told people about death threats from Salama-based loggers employed by the Sansone logging company. A local police sergeant, with accomplices, did the killing, and up to seven policemen may have been involved. Four were awaiting sentence when three mysteriously disappeared from custody last year.

The hiring of police as killers is commonplace. Honduras had death squads active through the 1980s, the most notorious of which was Battalion 316. Hundreds of teachers, politicians and union bosses were murdered by government-backed forces. The human rights defenders we met all said that the death squads never went away, they were just moved to other roles within the police or hired as muscle for private security firms.

The country seems controlled by private interests; even the democratic government was placed there by people with money and influence. The government is so compromised by the church’s authority and deals done with big business that it has no power to effect change. Padre Tamayo believes it’s only a matter of time before the one remaining policeman in custody for the murder of his two colleagues also escapes. “We expect he’ll be allowed to escape too. The police will never bring the police to justice.”

Champion of the people

He fears for his life but his knack for talking gunmen around has earned him the affectionate nickname “the Wizard”. At a mass MAO rally in 2001 to block a road where raw timber was travelling, fights broke out between protestors and police. Padre Tamayo was isolated by the head of the local police, who forced a live grenade into his mouth before moving quickly away. “I took it out and threw it as far as I could. It exploded in a nearby field,” he says, smiling. “Now the police have a case against me for causing a disturbance.”

He had recently been walking around his small village when an armed group tried to take him by force to a vehicle. Luckily, a couple of his soldiers were present and the kidnappers scarpered when they fired shots into the air. The Inter-American Human Rights Court ordered the Honduran government to provide protection for him after three attempts on his life in 2006.

Many international logging companies have hired Hondurans to murder the priest but repeated attempts have failed. He’s revered by rich and poor as a champion of the people. The first potential killer had a crisis of conscience and left the country. “He got in touch and told me what the logging company paid him to kill me, but he couldn’t do it. He told me to watch myself.”

The final attempt on his life before the government finally provided protection was perhaps the most extraordinary. He was alone in his presbytery when an armed group, including several soldiers, broke in. They planned to kidnap him and kill him elsewhere, uncomfortable with spilling blood in a presbytery. He talked them out of it. Stunned locals watched the men leave the house later. “I don’t know. When I’m confronted, I’m not a little mouse. They are nervous about what they are doing and I just talk to them,” he says. “They know if they kill me, there will be major consequences. The people would rise up and no timber would leave here.”

Instead, less high-profile environmentalists are being targeted, like René Gradis, co-coordinator of MAO. He has survived two attempts on his life and a kidnap attempt. He takes us to Un Corte, where once stood a sprawling forest, but now the only remaining trees are those not worth cutting down. When we reach the top of the steep mountain, the view is stark. All that can be seen is bald, treeless hills. “Yes, of course I’m scared for my life,” says Gradis. “But these thieves are taking our trees. We have to stop the wood thieves and the only way to do it is to keep denouncing what they do.”

Gradis has lost more friends to this cause than he cares to remember, but there is reason for optimism. The corrupt Honduran Forest Development Corporation (Cohdefor), which ignored logging companies’ blatant flouting of forestry laws in exchange for kickbacks, has just been replaced by Independent Forest Monitoring and new laws have been introduced. MAO also prevented Cohdefor employees from moving into the new organisation, positioning themselves at the table to influence policy.

We drive north to La Muralla national park to remind ourselves what a forest should look like. There is no management of the park, meaning some rare species are disappearing. But it still gives Gradis hope. “They have murdered our friends and we have yet to get justice. But what has happened gives us strength. We will not stop. We will keep fighting because of their deaths.”

`Lawyer of the poor’

Life is cheap in the capital, Tegucigalpa. Outside every restaurant and shop, security guards brandish rifles as a warning to customers and criminals. But the armed men are in real danger. The average wage in Honduras is between $100 and $150 a month. The guns the guards carry are worth far more than their lives and they are regularly murdered for their weapons. Dionisio Díaz García, “lawyer of the poor”, was representing private security guards whose labour rights were being violated when he was assassinated on 4 December 2006. He had driven to the Supreme Court to prepare for a hearing and, as he neared the court, he was shot dead by a man riding pillion on a motorbike.

García worked for the Association for a More Just Society (AJS) in Tegucigalpa. A week before the assassination, one of his colleagues received a text message warning that his life was in danger. AJS president Carlos Hernández has been threatened and intimidated since García’s death and now has full-time armed state protection, as does another employee who works for the Christian organisation that promotes economic, social and cultural rights.

Since Dionisio Díaz García’s murder, life has been a struggle for his widow Lourdes and her eight-year-old son, Mauricio. Such is her concern for their safety that she doesn’t want their faces to appear in the press. She’s completing a law degree and hopes to follow in García’s footsteps by representing the exploited and vulnerable. “I’ve tried to be a valiant person, and I’d like to follow in his footsteps. My husband wanted me to finish college. I’m doing it for him. I live by myself with my son. I believe I’m in danger and I cannot trust the police. When he was murdered, it was completely out of the blue because he never spoke of the work he was involved in. It was like cold water being poured over me.”

In January 2008 two men suspected of involvement in the killing were arrested and are currently in custody awaiting trial. But Lourdes and the AJS believe they were paid assassins and worry that the private security firm they believe ordered the murder won’t be brought to justice. “My husband was a very humanitarian man, loved by society. He dedicated his life to defending the poor. He didn’t care if someone had money to pay. For everything he did, he deserves justice. My son is always remembering him.”

New disappearances

García was one of 29 lawyers killed in the past two years in Honduras. A judge has also been murdered. Across the city, Bertha Oliva was reeling from a break-in at her office the week before, when the burglars urinated all over the floor. “It’s the first time after 25 years of working in human rights that I want to give up. Of course I won’t. But when I left my office at the end of the day, I cried.” She has a fair idea who’s responsible but is waiting until she has all the facts before making a public announcement. Oliva founded the Committee for the Defence of Prisoners and of the Families of the Disappeared (Cofadeh) and it’s the second time her premises have been ransacked in two months. They took files, computer equipment and personal effects. The group was initially set up to trace what happened to the hundreds of people who were “disappeared” by state security forces in the 1980s. The official number of disappeared stands at 184 but it is believed there are hundreds more.

Oliva’s interest is deeply personal. In 1981 her husband Tomás Nativí was forcibly abducted from their home by masked men. She never saw him again. The pair had married secretly and she was pregnant with their first child at the time. Nativí was a young revolutionary who had left the Communist Party to set up his own political group.

Cofadeh’s work has expanded far beyond examining what has happened to the disappeared. It is now legally representing families of environmentalists who’ve been murdered in their cases against the state. “We thought that the whole issue of disappearances was something that had been consigned to the past but in two-and-a-half years, seven people have disappeared. We are now seeing the same pattern of assassinations, torture and killings as we did in the 1980s.”

Oliva’s car has been followed in recent weeks and she feels as vulnerable as when her husband was taken 27 years ago. She’s involved with the development of a memorial park and exhibition centre outside the city that will pay homage to the 184 people officially disappeared. A tree has been planted to represent each person and a flame of memory will burn bright. She purchased the land from an Irishwoman and swears when the project is completed she’ll retire from the organisation and her 70-hour working week. “The state right now is weak and it has failed. I am here to give it strength. The day my voice will cease to be heard is the day I prefer to disappear physically myself,” she says. “They can kill me with guns, but they will never kill my spirit. If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t hesitate. I’d go through it all again. For him.”

`If I had a gun, I’d shoot you’

Dusk is falling as Donny Reyes and his boyfriend walk hand in hand through the busy streets of Tegucigalpa. Two men across the road begin shouting obscenities at them. One of them spits on the ground and screams: “If I had a gun, I’d shoot you.” This is nothing compared to what Reyes has lived through. They held hands publicly to facilitate our photograph; they would not usually take such a risk in this violently homophobic country, where the Catholic church has extreme influence and ran TV and radio campaigns denouncing the “evil of homosexuality”.

Reyes is treasurer of a rainbow gay group, Arcoiris, in Tegucigalpa. His tale has won international attention and raised awareness about the dangers and discrimination the gay and lesbian community face. “It still hurts to tell the story,” he says, “but what hurts more is that this kind of thing is still happening here.”

In March 2007 Reyes left the Arcoiris office late at night with a friend and supporter of gay rights, Doña Blanca. Six police officers approached him and demanded to see his identity papers, which he produced. He explained who he was and where he was coming from. The police then let Blanca go but arrested Reyes. “They beat me with batons and threw me into the car saying `queers don’t have rights’.” At the police station, the police took some time choosing which cell to put him in, looking for the one with the most gang members in it. Eventually, they brought him to a cell with some 60 prisoners and told them: “Here’s a present for you boys. You know what he is and what to do.” He was gang-raped by six men after being stripped and beaten. “It was a very small and dark room. I ended up in a pool of shit and urine.”

Released from prison the next day, Reyes immediately had medical tests and endured an agonising wait before he found out that he hadn’t contracted HIV or another sexual infection. Next stop was the police station to make a formal complaint. The chief of police advised him it wasn’t worth pursuing and advised him to leave the country. But Reyes persevered and charges were eventually brought against several policemen for illegal arrest. He had a witness, Doña Blanca, who was willing to give evidence. But weeks before the trial was to begin, she was shot dead in her home. All charges against the policemen were dropped in the Supreme Court earlier this year.

The same month Reyes made the complaint, Arcoiris’s office was broken into and documents and computer equipment were stolen. The office has been broken into a couple of times since. “I feel threatened and in danger,” he says. “But we have to keep on doing our important work until we have equal rights.”

Since Arcoiris was founded seven years ago, 210 people from the gay community have been murdered in hate crimes. Gay rights leaders believe a lot of this hatred stems from the influence of religious fundamentalism. In 2004 the church described it as “unfortunate” and “to be repudiated” when three gay organisations were granted legal status. The church has considerable sway with the government and influences political decisions that contribute to the stigmatisation of this community. Three years ago the cardinal of Honduras, Oscar Andrés Rodríguez, objected when Arcoiris rented an office down the street from a church building. The group was evicted from the premises immediately.

The group’s new premises is a busy drop-in centre. Many of its visitors are teenagers thrown out of home by their parents because of their sexuality. They speak about dropping out of school because of beatings from their peers and intolerance from teachers. Many then drift into prostitution. “I’ve been beaten and attacked and seen it happen to all my friends. I’ve tried to kill myself too,” says Ray Saene, 18, who’s been living with prostitutes since her mother threw her out of their home because she’s a lesbian. “I’m scared every minute.”


* Alison Bracken is a journalist

Honduras is among the leaders in destruction of forests

‘Honduras is among the leaders in destruction of forests’ was one of the rubrics in the following article and perhaps illustrates why the people of Olancho have to go to such lengths in order to have their say.

Deforestation still ‘winning’ in Latin America

By Diego Cevallos*

MEXICO CITY, Feb 16, 2008 (Tierramérica) – Never before have Latin America and the Caribbean fought so hard against deforestation, say experts and government officials, but logging in the region has increased to the point that it has the highest rate in the world. Of every 100 hectares of forest lost worldwide between the years 2000 and 2005, nearly 65 were in Latin America and the Caribbean. In that period, the average annual rate was 4.7 million hectares lost — 249,000 hectares more than the entire decade of the 1990s.

Deforestation remains difficult to deal with because there are many economic interests in play, according to Ricardo Sánchez, director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). At their latest forum, held Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Santo Domingo, the region’s environment ministers received a limited-circulation report that reveals, among other matters, the failure of strategies against forest destruction. The document, ‘Latin American and Caribbean Initiative for Sustainable Development – 5 Years After Its Adoption’ (ILAC), evaluates the official commitments made by governments in 2002.

“There is action by governments against deforestation like never before, but we are seeing that it is not an easy task, because there is strong pressure from economic groups,” Sánchez told Tierramérica.

Logging results in the loss of biodiversity and degradation of soils, as well as contributing to extreme climate phenomena, added the UNEP official.

Between 2000 and 2005, the proportion of total land surface covered by forests fell in the Mesoamerica region (southern Mexico and Central America) from 36.9% to 35.8%, and in South America from 48.4% to 47.2%. However, in the Caribbean it increased from 31.0% to 31.4%.

According to Mexican expert Enrique Provencio, author of the ILAC report, the principal cause of the increased pace of deforestation is the advance of the monoculture farming frontier. “There was a rise in international prices of products like soybeans, which drove the occupation and clear-cutting of forested areas, especially in Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay,” Provencio told Tierramérica.

The ILAC report indicates that although forestry activity has maintained a positive performance in terms of improving productivity and advances in sustainable management and other practices, such as certification of sustainably harvested lumber, it has not prevented the loss of forests. According to the study, in some countries the shrinking of forested areas continues to be associated with an increase in livestock-raising and the classic model of expanding pasture area by cutting down forests.

To combat deforestation, in recent years most governments have designed new monitoring and control mechanisms, with some even using the army to go after illegal loggers. Many countries have also passed laws that crack down hard on those who destroy forests. But the problem persists. “This shows that we continue to be economies dependent on the intensive use of natural resources and that the growing demand for food and other products has fuelled an advance of the agricultural frontier,” said Sánchez.

Another positive sign is the increase in the total area designated as nature reserves. In the 2000-2005 period, it grew from 19.2 to 20.6 percent of the territory in Latin America and the Caribbean, representing 320,400 square kilometres. Although the increase in protected areas cannot compensate for the loss of forest, “the process gives us some hope,” said Provencio.


*Diego Cevallos is an IPS correspondent. Originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Illegal logging continues

From ‘Nicaragua News’ 3 May 2011, produced by the Nicaragua Network.

Illegal timber extraction continued in 2010 to outpace the cooperative efforts of the army, police and environmental authorities to control it under the Natural Resources Protection Plan. Concentrating their efforts on the Bosawas Nature Preserve and Ometepe Island, the joint enforcement effort undertook 16,589 actions that resulted in the seizure of 511,121 board feet of illegally harvested timber, 9,911 logs, and 20 transport vehicles. All were turned over to civilian authorities for criminal prosecution of the responsible parties. To increase enforcement, the Army has created a 500 member Ecological Battalion that will deploy to 76 nature preserves across the country in the second half of this year.

Environmental scientist Kamilo Lara called the actions “significant” but said the results “don’t reflect the magnitude of the environmental destruction drama.” He said, “The data demonstrates that there is a strong movement of wood traffickers and predators that take advantage of the lack of controls to remove the forests for economic gain.” Presidential environmental advisor and father of Nicaragua’s environmental movement Jaime Incer Barquero stated that Nicaragua has lost 50% of its forests in the past 50 years and that has resulted in the drying up of 60% of the principal rivers of the country. He called the environmental future of the country “exceptionally frightening.”


Source:
El Nuevo Diario, May 2, 2011