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

Among the participants was a representative from Aljoma Lumber in Northwest Miami-Dade, the largest importer of Brazilian mahogany in the United States. On March 7, 2002, 760 cubic meters of mahogany bound for Aljoma Lumber were seized in Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. On March 26, 2002, another 660 cubic meters headed for Aljoma were seized in the Port of Miami. At roughly $1400 per cubic meter, that put the Medley lumber company out more than $2 million in wood. Aljoma joined six other mahogany importers in suing the U.S. government for the release of the wood and lost. The company later refused to arrange for the wood to be exported back to Brazil as instructed by APHIS. The U.S. Attorney is taking legal action to make Aljoma forfeit the wood.

"We feel terribly wronged by this and we have lost a lot of money as a result of these actions," reports David Flinn, chief financial officer of Aljoma Lumber. "We did everything the way you were supposed to do. The Brazilian government couldn't say which particular lot [of big-leaf mahogany] was exported illegally and which was not. The wood that was denied entry and is now under suit for forfeiture could just as well have been the wood that was released. Drawing straws would be equally objective."

From top, upper left: Paulo Adario tracks the 
mahogany trade; Hillary Hosta and Scott Anderson 
board the APL Jade as Greenpeace boats buzz about 
the vessel; Hosta contemplates her duty as a U.S. 
Top left and bottom: Jonathan Postal; All others C
From top, upper left: Paulo Adario tracks the mahogany trade; Hillary Hosta and Scott Anderson board the APL Jade as Greenpeace boats buzz about the vessel; Hosta contemplates her duty as a U.S. citizen

But someone was not taking any chances. On April 25, 2002, Peter O. Thomas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture official in charge of making sure the country complies with CITES, received an unusual fax. Signed by a midlevel IBAMA bureaucrat named Randolf Zachow, the fax dismissed the mahogany moratorium as a "mistake," a "misunderstanding," and even "madness" based on "a lot of false information." Zachow urged Thomas, on behalf of the Brazilian government, to release the seized mahogany.

At 7:00 a.m. on May 2, a source in the U.S. State Department called to alert Greenpeace USA forest campaign manager Scott Paul. The caller would reveal only that an IBAMA official had written a letter authorizing the imminent release. "I need a name," Paul pleaded.

The caller left him guessing: Look for someone with authority in IBAMA whose name begins with the letter Z.

At 3:00 p.m. on May 2, the USDA announced that all mahogany shipments would be released the following morning. Hours earlier, Paul had secured a copy of the Zachow fax and forwarded it to Adario. On lunch break at the timber industry's mahogany workshop in Belém, where he was allowed to attend but not to participate, Adario could hardly believe what he was reading. "In the workshop they were talking about how to end the moratorium," he remembers. "When someone was about to put an end to it with a single fax."

Adario alerted the president of Brazil directly. "If I had contacted the president of IBAMA or the Minister of Health," he speculates, "the wood would have been released." Instead by 5:00 that evening Zachow was fired.

In June 2002 the U.S. Attorney made a formal offer to the Greenpeace activists: Plead no contest to the sailor-mongering charges and there will be no jail time, no fine, not even any community service. The volunteers were ecstatic.

In September 2002, however, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami convened a grand jury to investigate the possibility of bringing sailor-mongering and conspiracy charges against Greenpeace USA. The grand jury indicted the organization on July 18, 2003. The indictment filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Elliot alleges that Greenpeace selected the APL Jade as the target of conspiracy "based upon the defendant's erroneous belief that the 'M/V APL Jade' carried a shipment of Brazilian mahogany lumber."

If the U.S. Attorney's Office was determined to prosecute Greenpeace for the APL Jade adventure, that didn't mean President Bush had forgotten his promise to crack down on illegal logging. On July 28, 2003, ten days after the Greenpeace indictment, the president hailed his new Anti-Illegal Logging Initiative. At the White House, in the Benjamin Franklin room, Secretary of State Powell named Brazil as an area of special interest in the government's effort. "We are all impoverished whenever environmental crime destroys a tree," Powell proclaimed. "We are all at risk when deforestation plants the seed of despair in a new human heart."

Branded criminals in Miami waters, Greenpeace decided to bring one of the organization's ships to the Port of Miami on a goodwill tour. On October 6, 2003, Greenpeace ship tour coordinator Rose Young had what she calls a cordial meeting with assistant port chief John Perez about docking the Greenpeace vessel M/S Esperanza at the port later that month and inviting the public onboard. But Greenpeace's criminal reputation had been firmly established. On October 10, assistant port director Gerry Cafiero sent an e-mail advising Young that the port does not allow public functions and that because of the "recent conduct of Greenpeace ... the Port deems your berthing request to pose an undue security risk."

When the Esperanza arrived on October 26, the ship stayed at anchor a few miles east of Miami Beach. Even so, the Coast Guard prohibited the organization from bringing any guests onboard, including the media.

Greenpeace may have failed to change its image in the eyes of the Coast Guard and the port, but the group's insistence that the APL Jade did carry illegal mahogany gave Special Agent Grazer second thoughts. As the Esperanza sat at anchor, the FBI agent contacted James "Budd" Petit de Mange, the CITES and plant inspection station coordinator at APHIS, for more information on the Jade's cargo. On October 30 Petit sent him a copy of a fax from IBAMA, which detailed the complicated process for determining whether a particular shipment of big-leaf mahogany had been legally logged. There in Table No. 5 was the amount exporter G.D. Carajas was permitted to send on the APL Jade: eight cubic meters. And there on a copy of the company's CITES permit stamped "determined by Precarious Judicial Decision" was the amount the Jade actually carried: 42 cubic meters.

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