The Greenpeace Effect

Environmental advocates claim they just want loggers to play by the rules. But Brazilian mahogany barons, local lumber lords, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Port of Miami all want these tree-huggers stopped

Targeting the APL Jade was a good gamble. Since 1999 the Greenpeace Amazon campaign has been tracking the traffic in illegal wood from Brazil. Directed by Paulo Adario, the field office in Manaus has documented the process, from the moment mature mahogany trees are identified by planes flying over the jungle to the wood's fate as dining room tables in Ethan Allen show rooms or do-it-yourself decking at Home Depot. Brazilian officials estimate that the trees have brought $3 billion in profits to the country since the trade intensified in the Seventies. A cubic meter of the precious wood can be produced for as little as $10 and sold on the export market for $700 to $1600.

In September 2001 Greenpeace released a report called "Partners in Mahogany Crime" that exposed the mahogany trade and how the so-called mahogany barons rely on corruption, slavery, and murder to get their goods to market. The report made a splash in the United States with coverage by CNN, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. It received so much media play and caused such a scandal in Brazil that the Federal Police and IBAMA, the country's counterparts to the FBI and the Environmental Protection Agency, joined forces with Greenpeace to launch a series of raids on illegal loggers called Operation Mahogany. The Brazilian government imposed a moratorium on the country's mahogany trade. IBAMA discovered such rampant irregularities that it was impossible to determine which logs had been harvested legally, so the agency began the laborious process of comparing the amount of wood each logging company had been permitted to harvest with the amount each company was attempting to export. Any excess was deemed illegal and seized.

Brazilian congressman Hamilton Casara (bottom) is 
grateful to Greenpeace for the group's help in seizing 
illegal lumber harvested in the Amazon during 
Operation Mahogany
Bottom: Jonathan Postal; All others Courtesy of Gr
Brazilian congressman Hamilton Casara (bottom) is grateful to Greenpeace for the group's help in seizing illegal lumber harvested in the Amazon during Operation Mahogany
The Greenpeace legal team: Jane Moscowitz flanked 
by Sarah Burden (left), David Halperin, Beverly Perez, 
and general counsel Thomas Wetterer
Jonathan Postal
The Greenpeace legal team: Jane Moscowitz flanked by Sarah Burden (left), David Halperin, Beverly Perez, and general counsel Thomas Wetterer

Logging companies sued the government in local courts in December, persuading judges in the Amazon region to circumvent the federal moratorium and allow the export of the wood. IBAMA could not simply override the local court rulings and halt the exports. At the same time, the agency had to follow the rules imposed by CITES, the international convention on endangered species to which Brazil adheres. To alert importing countries that these shipments did not comply with international law, the authorities at IBAMA stamped each permit with the words: This Export was determined by Precarious Judicial Decision (Injunction).

Since 80 percent of the country's big-leaf mahogany is exported to the United States, Brazil turned to the U.S. government for help. Early in February 2002, Hamilton Casara, who was then president of IBAMA, met with Assistant Secretary of State John Turner in Washington, D.C. In a speech on February 14, President George W. Bush revealed that he had asked Secretary of State Colin Powell to come up with a plan to crack down on illegal logging. Inspectors from the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) seized Brazilian mahogany shipments at U.S. ports.

Yet some shipments were still getting through, so Greenpeace decided to make the issue more public. The Manaus office made a list of ships that had repeatedly smuggled mahogany into the United States by mislabeling the cargo or transferring logs from one ship to another. Analyzing import data, the forest campaigners noticed that a ship called the Mitsui Osk Liner (MOL Amazonas) repeatedly carried big-leaf mahogany from the city of Belém to the port of Manzanillo, Panama. There the logs were unloaded and transferred to the APL Jade for transport to the United States. The transferred wood did not show up on the Jade's manifest. Instead it was listed on a separate manifest for the MOL. Though there was no way to be certain that the smugglers would repeat the routine when the Jade headed for Miami on April 10, Hosta and Anderson readied themselves for action. "It's like waiting for a bus," says Scott Paul, director of the Greenpeace USA forest campaign. "It just happened that the next bus was coming to Miami."

Soon after the Coast Guard apprehended the activists in Miami, FBI agents arrived. Special Agent David Grazer took statements from the Coast Guard officers and from the Jade's crew. (The Coast Guard, FBI, and U.S. Attorney's Office have all declined to comment on circumstances surrounding a pending case.) Later that night, the FBI processed the Greenpeace volunteers.

Hosta remembers the exchange like this:

Do you belong to a gang?

"Yes," Grazer said as he wrote on the intake form, saving Hosta the trouble of responding. "Greenpeace."

"Excuse me," Hosta remembers interrupting, "Greenpeace is not a gang."

"Indeed it is," Grazer insisted with a smile. "A gang is a group where members defer to the organization for their beliefs and actions."

Any gang tattoos?

Glancing at the amateurish globe the idealistic Hosta had inked in the crook of her left arm at age nineteen, the special agent wrote yes.

After eluding detection in the Port of Miami, the APL Jade set course for the Port of Charleston. While docked in South Carolina on April 14, 2002, documents from the port import/export reporting service PIERS show, the Jade's crew unloaded 72 crates, or 70 tons, of mahogany veneer. Less than one-fifth that amount had been legally permitted.

Meanwhile millions of dollars' worth of precious wood that did not make it through inspection was piling up in APHIS warehouses along the Eastern seaboard. Concerned representatives from the timber industry met in Belém with government officials from the United States and South America at a workshop from May 2 to May 4, 2002, called "Sustainable Trade and Management of Mahogany."

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