Moored in large boats or stacked one on top of another in barges on the river, the logs float from the remotest reaches of the Amazon to converge at a point in eastern Peru: Pucallpa, the city where the destruction of the tropical forest is legalized.
Ripped out of the jungle on the banks of the Ucayali River and with a highway leading to Lima, Pucallpa connects the jungle of central and northern Peru with the largest domestic timber market and its main international port. This makes the population a key transit point for an industry that annually moves around 2.6 million cubic meters of wood, of which between 40 and 80 percent is illegal, according to estimates by government agencies and independent experts. .
The center is the port district of Manantay, where forklifts wait to lift the cut logs from the river and stack them on the muddy banks. The air is permeated by the smell of sawdust and the wail of chainsaws from illegal sawmills where loggers and buyers can bring their black market lumber for their first cut. Nearby, informal loggers from jungle communities unload cut wood from jungle camps directly onto the riverbanks, where longshoremen wait to load it onto rickety trucks.
When the wood arrives in Manantay, the timber traffickers intervene. Their job is to launder illicit wood with fraudulently obtained paperwork and ship it to customers who demand cheap wood and plausible deniability. Their work contaminates almost the entire supply chain for wood from Pucallpa.
In Pucallpa, everyone handles illegal wood" in a recent visit, the prosecutor of the organized crime unit of Pucallpa Julio Reátegui. "And the bigger they are, the more protected they are; that's the reality."
The lower rungs of the timber trade are occupied by dispatchers, who oversee the comings and goings at the port. They use their position to unite local sellers and buyers, doing their deals from small wooden shacks scattered along the riverbanks. One notch higher are the individual timber merchants, known as “commission agents”, who act as agents for clients in Lima. Commissioners take orders and cash advances, and source, buy, and ship shipments of lumber in exchange for a percentage of each deal.
However, the real volume of wood and the real money in Pucallpa is made by the traffickers of wood, hidden behind the facades of legal companies.
Many of them are shell companies. Their legal representatives are the poor and unemployed, while their registered addresses are dilapidated houses or neighborhood stores. They appear intermittently, move large amounts of wood, and then disappear within a year or two.
“Most of the businesses in Pucallpa are front companies for criminals. On paper, they are legal, but it is a facade,” Reátegui concluded.
However, some of the larger traffickers operate differently, combining the legal with the illegal.
“A lot of bleaching takes place in the sawmills,” said Albino Aliaga Campos, of the Pucallpa office for the Forest Resources Supervision Agency (OSINFOR), the state entity in charge of monitoring the forest exploitation sector. "They come down the river, they arrive with the illegal wood, they unload it, and from that point on they just need a transport permit."
Although the primary role of timber traffickers is to serve as intermediaries between illegal loggers and buyers, many also take a more direct role in extraction and financing logging operations. In this system, known in the Peruvian Amazon as “habilitation,” traffickers recruit loggers, then give them an advance in cash, equipment, and orders to cut down certain species.
According to Rolando Navarro, former president of OSINFOR, traffickers such as those who run sawmills can do this independently or as agents of the biggest players in the Peruvian timber trade, exporters who sell bleached Peruvian timber to the rest of the world.
Information by (CLALS).