Illegal U.S. Timber Imports Endanger Peru's 'Uncontacted' Tribes, Says Report

The U.S. has been importing huge quantities of illegally-logged wood from the Peruvian Amazon, says a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

According to the report, released on April 10, at least 22 companies in the U.S. imported millions of dollars of illegal mahogany and cedar between January 2008 and May 2010. The report, titled The Laundering Machine, describes how this wood arrived in the U.S., some of it 'stolen' from Peru's protected areas including some regions so remote they are inhabited by 'indigenous groups who voluntarily remain isolated to avoid contact with the outside world', sometimes dubbed 'uncontacted.'

"Logging groups' invasions into these peoples' lands places both the tribes and the loggers at risk of violent conflict and deadly diseases," says the report. "In the 1990s, half of the Murunahua tribe was wiped out by flu or colds after contact with mahogany loggers."

The Laundering Machine explains in detail the 'systemically' corrupt, horrific and at times bizarre, 'magic' process by which all this wood reaches U.S. warehouses from remote Peru. 'Lists of trees that do not exist in the real world', forced labour, poor migrant workers 'kept almost as hostages', 'sexual slavery practices', 'universal' swindling of indigenous communities, extorsionate interest rates, self-perpetuating debt traps, complicit or powerless authorities, 'mafias', links to narco-trafficking, 'timber baron' connections to organized crime, even discs of roundwood cut from logs and 'planted' in the ground to look like real tree stumps to confuse inspectors... They all have a part to play.

"At its worst, illegal logging in Peru is a story of abuse of the poorest people in situations that border on slave labor and sexual slavery," says the report.

"Peru's current logging industry is a model that has nothing to do with meaningful economic development," says the EIA's Julia Urrunaga. "The real human toll of these illegal practices is demeaning and ugly."

The Laundering Machine points the finger at Peru's "systematic failure of governance," but says the situation is "facilitated and amplified by an enormous no-questions-asked demand for tropical timber from global markets."

The report also flags up the appalling environmental consequences of this illegal trade, calling it a "tragedy of the commons," and says it "appears to be in violation of U.S. laws, including the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act," as well as the "Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Peru."

Indigenous organization AIDESEP, based in Lima, was quick to respond to the report.

"As a result of this, Peru is losing about 250 million dollars every year -- money which could be used to reforest or protect standing forest," it says.