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The Laundering Machine: How U.S. Corporations Threaten Peru’s Forests Through Illegal Logging

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We are broadcasting from the United Nations Climate Conference in Lima, Peru, where more than half of the country is still covered by tropical rainforest, which plays a crucial role in absorbing carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. A new report reveals more than 20 U.S. companies have imported millions of dollars in illegal wood from the Peruvian Amazon since 2008. We speak to Julia Urrunaga, Peru programs director for the Environmental Investigation Agency and author of the new report, “The Laundering Machine: How Fraud and Corruption in Peru’s Concession System Are Destroying the Future of Its Forests.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we broadcast live from the United Nations climate summit in Lima, Peru, where more than half the country is still covered by tropical rainforest, which plays a crucial role in absorbing carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. But Peru is facing scrutiny here at the COP because of a new report by the group Global Witness that finds it’s the fourth most dangerous nation for environmental activists, including the indigenous people who live in the forests and work to protect it from deforestation. In a few minutes, we’ll speak with two widows of four men who were killed here in September, allegedly by the illegal loggers they were trying to stop. Peru also recently passed legislation that rolls back forest protections in order to attract new investment and development. On Friday, the president of the COP 20, Peru’s environment minister, Manuel Pulgar, talked about the problems this country faces when it comes to the issue of deforestation.

MANUEL PULGAR-VIDAL OTÁLORA: [translated] We need to control deforestation, and there are three things which I ask the media to take into account. The first is illegal logging, which must result in specific sanctions, including the imprisonment of those involved. The majority of this is linked to the extraction of fine woods such as cedar and mahogany. The second phenomenon is deforestation for migratory agriculture. This is the main cause for deforestation. This involves people who travel in search for better conditions within the Amazon and cut down areas of trees to create farms in order to produce and sustain themselves. The third area involves other causes, such as illegal mining. All three areas must be controlled.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re now joined here in Lima, Peru, by Julia Urrunaga. She’s a native of Peru. She lives here in Lima, where she’s the Peru programs director for the Environmental Investigation Agency, the author of a report that revealed more than 20 U.S. companies have imported millions of dollars in illegal wood from the Peruvian Amazon since 2008. The report is titled “The Laundering Machine: How Fraud and Corruption in Peru’s Concession System Are Destroying the Future of Its Forests.”

Julia, welcome to Democracy Now! More than half of Peru is covered by forest?

JULIA URRUNAGA: Yes, yes, that’s about more of—it’s about 60 percent of it, of the territory, is Amazonian forest, and that’s about the size of Texas.

AMY GOODMAN: And what does that mean for not only Peru, but for the world?

JULIA URRUNAGA: Well, it is not only about the carbon, but it’s also about the biodiversity. Peru has 84 out of the 104 different life areas in the world. A very large number of species of birds and insects and different things are in Peru, and every month or year are more being discovered. And also, it’s the home for almost half a million indigenous peoples that have been living there for centuries.

AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, we’re going to hear from the widows of the men who in September were killed as they tried to challenge illegal logging. Talk about the significance of their story.

JULIA URRUNAGA: Yes, well, it is very important because they—not only about the trial that they went through, but also they represent the case of many other indigenous communities in Peru and in the world that are trying to—that are fighting to protect their environment. And not only they don’t receive enough support from the government, but they also have to fight the government sometimes, like, for example, this indigenous community was fighting for title in their land for over 12 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of Edwin Chota, who he is—who he was.

JULIA URRUNAGA: He was a very well-known leader in Peru and out of the country, because he had been very active in not only fighting, but also documenting the illegal logging activities. So, he was producing all these reports for the government, identifying with GPS data—that’s how precise he was—

AMY GOODMAN: With GPS data?

JULIA URRUNAGA: Yes, yes, yes, because we and other organizations here in the country have been working on sharing this technology with indigenous groups, so that they can best monitor the forest. We have a project with AIDESEP, the largest indigenous organization here, on indigenous forest monitoring. And they want to learn more about how to document what’s happening in their forests, so that they can get more attention from the government. Sadly, in the case of Chota, having all this information was not enough. He was—the authorities at the regional level and at the national level were not paying enough attention to his case, and eventually they got killed. And that was for a few illegal logged trees. And in the last five years, the Peruvian authorities have identified that there have been at least 300,000 trees that have been illegally logged. And that’s what’s documented.

AMY GOODMAN: What does this have to do with the United States?

JULIA URRUNAGA: Well, the United States have an important role here, as the rest of the world, because you are consuming this timber. Without knowing and without being diligent enough, you are just buying timber that is coming from destroying the environment and that is coming from killing indigenous people and violating their rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Are there particular kinds of wood that we should know are trouble?

JULIA URRUNAGA: Well, it’s almost all the different—all the different species. In the case of our report, this report, “The Laundering Machine,” we were focusing on mahogany and cedar, but because those are the ones that are better documented, so that we could track down the origin of the trees from the exporters’ data to the forests. And when you go back to the forest, you will realize that it’s not coming from the authorized concessions, it’s coming from wherever else. For the other species, several of them going to the United States and also to China and Europe, the case is the same, but the problem is that we cannot trace them back.

AMY GOODMAN: We will link to your report, “The Laundering Machine,” at democracynow.org. Again, Julia Urrunaga is a native of Peru, living here in Lima, and she’s just produced this report called “The Laundering Machine: How Fraud and Corruption in Peru’s Concession System Are Destroying the Future of Its Forests,” a report that reveals up to 20 companies in the United States are involved with this illegal logging.

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Widows of Peru’s Murdered Indigenous Rainforest Defenders Demand Justice at U.N. Climate Summit

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