By Paula Bayarte
Lima, Apr 27 (EFE).- The deforestation of large swaths of the Peruvian Amazon not only deserves attention due to its environmental ramifications, according to the non-governmental organization Proetica.
That scourge also is part of larger corruption-fueled organized crime rackets whose illegal activities include irregular mining, drug trafficking and threats to indigenous leaders striving to protect their territories, that group says.
“The forest ecosystems of Peru and a large part of the Latin American region regrettably have become laboratories of illegal economies,” the director of Proetica’s Environmental Governance Program, Magaly Avila, told Efe.
She therefore stressed the importance of denouncing these illicit activities in Peru, a country nearly 60 percent covered by forest.
A study by that organization found that more than half of the environmental crime proceedings launched in the Andean nation between 2009 and 2021 corresponded to crimes against forests or forest formations, illegal trafficking of timber forest products and illegal mining.
It also noted that these types of crimes have risen by nearly 50 percent since 2020.
Peru’s Environment Ministry also conducted a survey that found that 2020 was the country’s worst year for deforestation in recent decades, with an estimated loss of 200,000 hectares (772 square miles) of forest.
Proetica said environmental oversight was suspended during the pandemic, clearing the way for an increase in illegal activities in the Peruvian Amazon.
“We can’t keep looking at environmental crimes as an environmental problem, because they … go beyond that,” Avila said. “They occur within an area of natural resources, but the illegal activities carried out there are related to drug trafficking, money laundering, organized crime and corruption, so we can’t keep looking at them as something exclusively environmental.”
Illegal logging is the first step toward carrying out other activities on those lands such as illegal mining or illegal crop-growing, and all those processes go hand-in-hand with the corruption that’s generated by certain government officials, companies and criminal organizations, the organization said.
“If there weren’t a functionary who knows there are coca leaf maceration pits or fields sown with coca and overlooks it, these processes wouldn’t prosper,” said Avila, who added that some officials accept bribes in exchange for not denouncing these crimes.
He said there also are functionaries who seek to combat corruption but that many do so without state-funding for security or transportation and are occasionally threatened by these mafias.
IMPACT ON NATIVE PEOPLES
In addition to the damage it causes to the ecosystem of one of the planet’s most biodiverse areas, the spread of these types of activities infringes upon the rights of the native peoples of this region.
At least 15 environmental leaders of these indigenous populations have been killed by organized crime groups since March 2020, according to local authorities, a record total that, according to Proetica, is indicative of growing corruption.
Proetica has witnessed how drug trafficking drives the economies of Amazon areas such as the triple border between Peru, Brazil and Colombia, creating a “no man’s land” in which people-trafficking – including the trade and exploitation of minors – is a regrettable reality.
“Corruption kills. Corruption generates death, poverty and a completely perverse state in which democracy and the credibility process of public institutions are undermined.” EFE