By Pablo Cingolani
The chainsaws invaded the San Fermín sector of the Madidi National Park with the complicity and concealment of the park rangers that the park management allocates to the area that depends on the National Service of Protected Areas (SERNAP) of the Ministry of Sustainable Development.
The chainsaws invaded the San Fermín sector of the Madidi National Park with the complicity and concealment of the park rangers that the park management allocates to the area that depends on the National Service of Protected Areas (SERNAP) of the Ministry of Sustainable Development. The incident also involves Bolivian workers and Peruvian businessmen and had already been denounced by Peruvian authorities. However, nothing was done to stop this tragedy and this national shame.
The indiscriminate exploitation of mara wood and cedar trees that is shaking the Madidi National Park, in a sector of the Bolivian-Peruvian border, not only constitutes a serious international problem but also deeply questions the ability to effectively manage the protected areas in Bolivia by the state environmental bureaucracy and the international NGOs that support it, handling money that, in turn, is contributed by different nations through their international cooperation offices.
To make matters worse, the events recorded in San Fermín are not new neither for the sector nor for other parts of the park; The unfortunate thing is that the government authorities not only do nothing to solve this scandalous problem, but they themselves facilitate the bleeding of the most valuable forest species that, instead of being preserved, are mercilessly looted.
The community members of San Fermín are not to blame for such a disaster. From now on, the easiest thing would be to accuse them of an excessive profit motive. Our position is that the residents of San Fermín are also victims of this negligence and lack of basic solutions with which protected areas are managed, which have not provided viable economic alternatives to the human, indigenous and mestizo groups that live within them.
In the case of the Madidi, the problem is not only very serious but pathetic. The creation of a protected area of almost 19,000 square kilometers (1), a country within another country called Bolivia, should have been analyzed in a responsible way and, if the feasibility for efficient management was demonstrated, which needed to include, without extenuating circumstances, economic proposals for the local population, it should have been carried out carry out a very deep process of awareness and consultation with the communities established within its limits. At the same time, it was necessary to manage sufficient and long-term resources for efficient control. It is clear that neither one thing nor the other was done and, if it was done, it was done wrong.
In the current state of affairs, and under the rule of an imported and reductionist look at the problems, it is a cruel joke to suppose that a staff that has never exceeded 30 rangers can preserve such a large area. If to this is added the permanent shortage of resources to provide them with modern technological means to carry out their inspection tasks, there is no longer a joke: it is a tragedy like the one we present. If we add to this, for example, the failure to pay salaries by SERNAP, it is inevitable to assume that events such as those that occur in San Fermín can become commonplace and that corruption flourishes where the trees that now stand should flourish. being cut down.
It would also be easy to blame the park rangers (although criminals can be everywhere). The truth is that they are also victims of the vertical and arbitrary management of the aforementioned areas, since, in most cases, they are children of their own original communities in which they must exercise police functions against their own brothers who –not It should be a secret from anyone - they are some of the poorest and neediest inhabitants in all of Bolivia, some condemned of the land within the areas where they are divided, censored and unfairly prohibited.
This is even more regrettable when we contrast it with the expensive publicity that the authorities present to promote their supposed achievements (a week ago in La Paz to celebrate the ten years of the founding of the park), with the trips that They are carried out abroad supposedly to obtain funds to conserve the areas (and they remain vulnerable and attacked as they have always been) and with that fundamentalist conservationist discourse in a country where the most urgent thing, given the importance of biodiversity in Bolivia and its ecoregions, but also the extreme poverty of its population, is to seek to reconcile economic and social development with environmental preservation.
It is the so-called "sustainable development", yet another euphemism of the World Bank, which among us has not moved anyone and even less made the people eat.
Here we must be blunt: our people, especially our native peoples of the Andes, the Amazon and the Chaco are the ones who know best about biodiversity and its responsible management: thus they have survived centuries. They are the true "environmentalists". If it had not been for them, for example, we would not have domesticated the potato, an invaluable nutritional source that has fed the entire world, especially in times of planetary crisis.
Given this, we ask ourselves, what good do some of those institutions with acronyms of foreign names that we popularly know as NGOs have to offer?
We open the doors to them unwisely and generously and they pay us with biopiracy. We only have to remember the trial against some of them that we denounced in a previous issue of this publication (2). The National Congress should pronounce on the matter and report on the case since it cannot be that NGOs that call themselves environmentalists in collusion with some of the most fraudulent oil companies in the world (ENRON) come to steal our plants right under our noses. Billions of dollars are at stake: essential oils, new medicines, the diet and health of the future. Gas will run out one day, so what will we live on?
One of the NGOs alluded to in that article - I am referring to the North American WCS - was also not shy about presenting with SERNAP the finding of a primate –which the community members of San José de Uchupiamonas had always known- and announcing it as a new species for the science. To top it all, the scientific name of that creature (which also didn't hurt anyone) was put up for auction at a Las Vegas casino! So much indignity has a name: ecological colonialism. The fact symbolizes what we question and since they have obtained the ridiculous sum of 650,000 dollars for prostituting us as a sovereign country, it would be good if some of the money collected reached San Fermín to solve the disaster we denounced, because there the NGOs do not even show up .
You will know how to forgive this lengthy presentation but if we are worthy and patriotic we should try to solve this problem that is becoming more and more unmanageable due to the omission and / or complicity of the authorities. We must Bolivianize protected areas and we must hand over their administration to their rightful owners: indigenous and native peoples.
The looting of Madidi is the fault of this bureaucracy and this myopic and insensitive management that now must be seeing on the map where the hell it is and how to get to that place called San Fermín where our poor peasants (They don't see that they are savages! , they will say from their comfortable chairs) they have been given to eat wood.
San Fermín in space and time
The community of Puerto San Fermín is located on the banks of the Tambopata River, the arcific border between the republics of Bolivia and Peru since the signing of the Treaty of Borders of 1909, and in the middle of the tropical humid forest, one of the ecosystems whose conservation is considered as priority in the world.
The shadow of the tragedy comes from afar: between 1907 and 1913, San Fermín was a rubber hut of the English company The Tambopata Rubber Syndicate (3) and it could be reached from Apollo by a path, as described by the British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett in his memoirs. (4) The miseries and abuses that the workers went through were also noted by Fawcett in his book.
When the rubber tappers left, the area returned to tranquility and its original inhabitants –Those Ejjas who consider that the Bahuaja hill, the mythical mountain of the ethnic group, is located in the surrounding region; presumably Toromonas and others - were only disturbed by some missionaries.
Years passed, and in 1969, a group of families of mestizo-Quechua origin who arrived from the town of Santa Cruz del Valle Ameno, in search of new farmland to settle, founded the current community of Puerto San Fermín. Years later, other families came from the Asariamas community, also of Quechua origin. (5)
The native peoples withdrew to more isolated territories and - it is a scientific hypothesis that cannot be ruled out - that inhabit the interior of the Colorado River valley and the headwaters of the Heath River, to the north and northwest of the current site of the community. In any case, the community members did not enter those territories: it was very difficult to even see any boat sailing in that direction. Today, in three days of permanence in the area, we have seen not only transport of wood and people, but even gasoline up to the Cachimayu River (where we know that wood was being exploited) for which, it is evident, that If there is a voluntarily isolated indigenous group, there may be a confrontation with the loggers that can have dire consequences. The most obvious: the extermination of that indigenous people.
All these sites are under the jurisdiction of the Franz Tamayo province (former Caupolicán), north of the Department of La Paz. At present, they depend on the Municipality of Apolo.
In 1985, there was a peaceful invasion south of San Fermín by colonizers of Peruvian origin who settled in what they called "Future Valley". These colonizers were part of a persistent migration of settlers from the highlands of the Peruvian department of Puno (especially of Aymara origin) that intensified from the sixties of the 20th century, with the opening of a highway from penetration from the town of San Juan del Oro. (6)
The Peruvian colonizers were evicted by the military from Bolivian territory and as a result of this conflict, a battalion of jungle infantry and several military outposts (PMA) were established in Apolo. One was located in the vicinity of the Ubito River (in the old camp facilities of a mining company that carried out prospecting in the area) and was baptized as PMA Tuichi; another was located on the banks of the Cocos River but was destroyed by a flood of the river and abandoned; the latter was established on the grounds of the former school of the Peruvian community of Valle Futuro and was baptized as the PMA Capitán Lino Echeverría. These military posts have had a regular operation since then, although they lack the conditions and resources to not only protect Bolivian sovereignty on the border, the specific function assigned to the Armed Forces, but also to enforce the law within Bolivian territory, in this case within a national park.
In 1995, the Madidi National Park and Integrated Management Natural Area was created, dependent on the National System of Protected Areas and considered by specialists as one of the largest reserves of biodiversity in the world.
This is key to understanding the background of the problem and the authorities we question: the residents of the communities Puerto San Fermín, Lino (named for its proximity to the military post of the same name) and Cocos o Lanza, a new settlement located at the mouth of the Cocos River in the Lanza River (also bordering the Republic of Peru) were included within the boundaries of the new national park. Of course, they are not the only ones who live within the park and who do not live, as they should, within its natural area of integrated management. This clumsiness and bureaucratic myopia is costing dearly. An argument that ministers and directors will surely make is the need to "recategorize" the sector. The inevitable question is: why didn't they do it sooner? Of course, this would be another solution on paper since it would not solve the urgent problem: what will the residents of San Fermín live on to avoid starvation?
For its part, the colonization front located in the southern Peruvian jungle was included in the so-called buffer zone of the Bahuaja Sonene National Park, whose creation as such dates back to the year 2000. (7)
Both parks constitute the central nucleus of an international corridor project of areas of ecological relevance called "Vilcabamba-Amboró", which includes protected areas located north of the city of Cuzco up to the vicinity of the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. Another unsustainable illusion, given the circumstances: in the heart of the corridor, precisely, is San Fermín.
"We are all poor"
The first time we were in San Fermín as Expedition Madidi, poverty devastated us. One of its most degrading manifestations was the damage suffered by children as a result of leshmaniasis or white leprosy, a typical disease of poverty in the tropics since it is curable. For this reason, the following year, we returned to coordinate the logistics of the first national version of the Comprehensive Health Brigades (BRISA) of the then Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, a program that continues to this day serving isolated areas, and taking medicines to heal. that bad.
This year, the situation was even more bleak: according to the statements of the residents themselves, except for one family, all the others were infected with leprosy. Speechless.
According to the last census of 2001, 198 people live in a dispersed manner in which, in the records of the National Institute of Statistics, it appears as the San Fermín community, including the others. The men (who are 110) and the women (88) live in 35 houses where - let's note it so that the NGOs understand - there is no service: no drinking water, no sewage, and no less electricity. For the famous statistics to which the World Bank has accustomed us, the incidence of poverty is 100 percent. There is a primary school, where the effigy of Che Guevara had been suggestively painted on the front clay wall, and this time three teachers.
When we went there, the inhabitants were living poorly on a small coffee production that rescuers sold to the Peruvian cooperatives on the other side of the river. The rest were completed with some subsistence cultivation and some hunting.
This year, the villagers continued to live poorly - even the boat they used had disappeared due to a flood - but this time working as timber laborers for Peruvian businessmen.
As Simeona Chambi once told me, while she spoke about God incessantly –the community members are all evangelical-, in San Fermín, “we are all poor”.
The gang business
It had to happen: on the Peruvian side, secondary forest predominates, there is no more wood to cut but the income needs of a growing population also increase. If years ago, the inhabitants of San Fermín were deceived with their coffee, now it was their turn - why not? - to wood.
The drama began when Peruvian citizens living in the Aymara communities of the jungle entered Bolivia to look for and cut down mara and cedar trees. The immigrants lacked the necessary knowledge, they cut logs badly, they wasted them. Then, a natural alliance arose between our compatriots - who did know how to cut - and businessmen from the neighboring country who did not hesitate to provide them with the deadly weapon of the forest: chainsaws. Not only that: gasoline, food, nylons and even a cook, as denounced by the military man in charge of the WFP Lino Echeverría, Subtte. Alejandro Rubin de Celis, who discovered a fearful woman in what he believed was a pool of maceration for drug traffickers. It was a logging camp.
According to the complaints that we were able to collect, among other witnesses from the personnel of the Bahuaja Sonene National Park of Peru and our own evidence, the sites where the indiscriminate logging of mara and cedar is taking place are, to the south, the lower and middle basin of the river Lanza (Mosojhuiaco when it enters Bolivian territory), located in front of the Peruvian communities known by the names of Miraflores 1, Miraflores 2 and Miraflores 3, linked by a “trocha” (local road in Bolivia), to the area of the Cachimayu River, north of San Fermín and the Peruvian community of Pampa Grande, where the road that connects the jungle with the cities of Juliaca and Puno ends, and where the photographs that illustrate this report were taken. When we were there, we clearly heard the sound of a chainsaw across the river; In other words, we can point out that wood was being cut down in a border strip of around 50 kilometers.
In Pampa Grande, that wood is accumulated on the river beach itself and even in cliffs in the town itself. From there, at night, it is loaded onto trucks and transported off site. The wood that comes down from the Lanza (we saw two rafts of quartered wood passing in front of San Fermín) does it comfortably by the river; the one that is extracted from Cachimayu must go up to Pampa Grande. The proliferation of trails must be incredible. Damage to the park environment as well. According to Bahuaja officials, the Lanza sector was a wildlife sanctuary where, among other species, Andean bears or jucumaris and Londoners or river otters could be found, which spoke of the non-human intervention of the sector. In two years, these species disappeared, which is why they considered that the rumbeadores (the outpost of the loggers, those who enter the forest to locate and identify the trees) and the timber business should have started at that time.
Bahuaja Sonene authorities unsuccessfully tried to seize Peruvian trucks loaded with Bolivian wood, three in March 2005 and several more in recent September in the town of Putina Punco. Unfortunately, the entrepreneurs were able to avoid suffering losses.
In Peru, the National Institute of Natural Resources (INRENA) administers both the body that controls the protected areas (the Intendencia de Áreas Protegidas, based in Lima, where the complaints from the park officials arrived) and the agency that handles the forest resources and wild fauna (Forestry and Wildlife Administration). As it was Bolivian wood, the businessmen requested permits from the forestry authority only to transport wood. This, in the eyes of the forestry officials - how could it be otherwise since, ultimately, they were not trees felled in Peru - was absolutely legal. For this reason, the complaints of the Bahuaja Sonene park officials reached the Peruvian capital and, logically, they were not followed.
The worst: they even informed the headquarters of the Madidi park in San Buenaventura. The reason was not only to alert the park management of the outrages that were committed against the Bolivian natural heritage, but to seek to end them since, according to what they told us, they fear that the bad example will spread. “They will tell us,” said a concerned park ranger, “if you can cut wood in the Bolivian national park, why can't we cut it here in Peru? Are we one-armed? " To complete the picture, Peruvian officials received death threats.
Faced with this unsustainable situation, the director of the Puno sector of the park did what the current director –Iván Arnold- and the eternal head of protection of the Madidi Park –Ebelio Romay should do: RENOUNCE.
Complicity of the authorities
This unfortunate picture is completed with the responsibility that must be assumed not only by the two aforementioned officials but by the director of SERNAP, John Gómez, and the highest authority in the field, the Minister of Sustainable Development, Marta Bozo, in the face of something very sad and heartbreaking: The park rangers assigned to the San Fermín camp were not only aware of this that we have, but they had reached an agreement with the community members so that they can cut wood for two months and that the logging cease on October 18. In other words, since at least August 18, the park rangers assigned to San Fermín allowed the logging of mara. We had the bad feeling (for them) of arriving in San Fermín on October 9, when the activity was frantic before the supposed end of the agreed time.
The horror continues: on the 10th, in the afternoon, with Ing. Ricardo Solís - general coordinator of the Madidi Expedition - we were present at a meeting held between some members of the community (including Secretary General Francisco Ovando), the WFP commander Captain Lino Echeverría, Second Lieutenant Alejandro Rubín de Celis and a park ranger named Ortiz.
Incredible: in the same, a request for an extension of the aforementioned agreement was processed, for which the community members requested the Subtte. Rubín de Celis authorizes its extension.
Rubín de Celis not only refused, alleging his total lack of competence in the matter, but also demanded the delivery of the chainsaws. The community members also refused, arguing that chainsaws were their work tools.
Ortiz, a native of the community of San Fermín, tried, at first he tried to intercede on behalf of his countrymen and that there be flexibility in cutting wood.
Before the persistent refusal of the Subtte. Rubín de Celis to authorize them and the community members to stop logging, I declared that I was going to denounce the case in La Paz since it was evident, first, that they were cutting wood in the park (the aforementioned agreement was proof, moreover, reliable ) and that it was also evident that there was cover-up on the part of the park rangers since, under no argument or law, the felling of precious wood in a national park can be allowed. Then we retire.
When we were about to cross the river, we spotted a raft with two people going down the Tambopata towards Colorado. When a woman from the community was asked who these people were, she answered quite naturally that they were "boarders". Once at the camp, Leoncio and Raúl Navi reported the sighting of two quartered wooden rafts going down the Tambopata River.
That's not all: we saw two letters signed by the head of the Forestry Unit of the Apolo Mayor's Office, Francisco Calle. In one of them, on September 23, Calle authorized the Peruvian citizen Rodolfo Calcina Mamani to transport Bolivian wood to his country. In the other letter, dated the 24th, Calle himself denounced chaqueos and illegal extraction of wood by Peruvian subjects in Bolivian territory. As the world is upside down, death threats have not been lacking and it is not an assumption to affirm that, at any moment, violence could break out, putting people's lives at risk.
I save details: two days later we reached Pampa Grande, the end of the road. When we saw how much wood was on the beach, we almost fell on our ass. Worse when we detect our community members using the chainsaw. Opposite, in Bolivia, another roared. See the photos and judge.
As a lawyer friend, with whom we are consulting to initiate legal action, told us: "This is a tragedy, what a pain!" Yes, but it is a pain that must revolt us.
Of course, we were denied entry to the park. A park ranger named Remberto Chivapuri from Apolo said on the radio in front of us that if we entered we would do “bad propaganda” (sic) to them and to the park because we were going to document “the looting of the gang” (sic) and that if we did not agree, It had to be coordinated with the Bolivian army and "use public force" (sic) to withdraw from the area. More clearly, water: they denied us entry to the park because they did not want us to see what we saw.
But it revolts us and that is why we not only saw it and it hurts but we showed it to the whole world, seeking to join forces to find real solutions. From now on, we cannot believe that such a disaster was not known to the park's management and protection authority, the SERNAP leadership, and the Minister, who is ultimately responsible for ensuring our biodiversity and natural resources.
Madidi is now or never, because tomorrow is too late !!
Chief of the Madidi Expedition, declared for the second time, on September 8, as of "National Interest" by the H. Chamber of Deputies of the Republic of Bolivia. This was its fourth official version and had the institutional support of the National Directorate of Archeology of the Vice Ministry of Culture. Cingolani is a researcher attached to DINAR. Posted in Bolpress. www.EcoPortal.net
( 1 ) Madidi has an area of 18,957 square kilometers. By way of comparison, Holland has 41,526 km², Catalonia 31,929 km² and the island of Jamaica 10,991 km².
(2) See Pablo Cingolani. The Amazon in the sights of the US The rabid toy, La Paz, s / f. See in the same publication: Miguel Lora: It is negotiated in secret how to patent living beings.
( 3 ) See José Antonio Flores Marín: The exploitation of rubber in Peru. Concytec, Lima, 1987. A copy was provided to me by Ing. Humberto Rodríguez de Lima. The study, from a Marxist perspective, reveals the terrible exploitation mechanisms used in the jungle by businessmen at the beginning of the 20th century.
( 4 ) See Percy Harrison Fawcett: Through the Amazon Rainforest (Fawcett Exploration). Rodas, Madrid, 1974
( 5 ) See History of the Pto. San Fermín community. Testimony written by Marino Coaquira, resident in Puerto San Fermín, on October 27, 2000. Published in Pulso, La Paz, August 31, 2001.
( 6 ) See Avecita Chichón, Manuel Glave and Mariana Varese: The slow colonization of the Inambari and the Tambopata: use of space in the southern jungle of Peru. s / d
( 7 ) See Kim MacQuarrie: History of the Bahuaja-Sonene Park in Where the Andes meet the Amazon. Bahuaja-Sonene and Madidi, National Parks of Peru and Bolivia. Jordi Blassi, Barcelona, 2001.
* Pablo Cingolani is a Historian, journalist, explorer. He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1963. He has lived in La Paz, Bolivia, since 1987. As a historian, he carried out studies on Argentine rights over the Malvinas Islands and land problems in the Jujuy highlands, rubber exploitation in the Amazon and the mining history of Los Lípez Potosinos.
He worked as an editor and collaborator in a dozen graphic media in La Paz and his articles are also published in media in Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Spain. In video, he directed with Gastón Ugalde “Imagina Bolivia” and the first series of documentaries on protected areas. He led ecohistoric expeditions since 1980, exploring, among others, the Iruya-Baritú region, Cumbres Calchaquíes and the Jujuy puna in Argentina, the Atacama desert in Chile and almost all the national parks of Bolivia, especially in Lípez, Chaco and Amazonía. .
Creator of the Madidi Expedition that has already made 4 versions of different sectors little explored of the park of the same name and declared of "national interest" by the Bolivian Congress.