Peru just fired its top anti-illegal logging official

A general view of a deforested area near an illegal gold mine in the Amazon region of Peru taken on Sept. 11, 2012. Parts of the Amazon jungle have undergone deforestation due not only to agricultural demands but also the increase in illegal mining.
Miguel Bellido/El Comercio

LIMA, Peru — Peru just dismissed its top anti-illegal logging official, amid claims that he was doing too good a job at breaking up the organized crime groups profiting from ravaging the country’s vast Amazon rainforest.

The decision, by President Ollanta Humala, was announced on Friday in El Peruano, the state-owned newspaper where government news is published. 

The brief announcement gave no explanation about why Rolando Navarro had been removed from his job as director of OSINFOR, Peru’s forests and wildlife agency. The press team for Humala’s cabinet also declined to comment to GlobalPost, saying it had no information about the case.

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But environmentalists, who had seen Navarro as a badly needed ally in their fight to save the Peruvian Amazon — a huge area of spectacularly diverse tropical rainforest twice the size of California — had few doubts.

“By sacking this highly valuable public officer, President Humala seems to be trying to send a message to all the other public servants to not attempt to stop the illegal logging mafia,” Julia Urrunaga, Peru Director at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a Washington DC-based nonprofit, said in a statement

“The many brave public officers, who remain committed to their mission, should not be underestimated. While many in the government continue to turn a blind eye to illegal logging, and sometimes act in collusion with the timber mafias, ongoing reform efforts will not be silenced.”

Navarro himself couldn’t be reached, but he did retweet this from another EIA activist:

According to the EIA, some 80 percent of Peru’s timber exports come from illegally logged wood, including trees felled inside national parks and indigenous reserves. It is then “laundered” to give it the necessary papers to make it appear legitimate.

More from GlobalPost: Peru is exporting outlawed timber from the Amazon to the US 

Navarro had been scoring some notable successes recently, including what has been reported to be the largest seizure of illegal timber in Peruvian history

Last November, his name was prominently displayed on a symbolic coffin at a protest organized by logging supporters — a sure sign that the clandestine industry had been feeling the squeeze from Navarro and his OSINFOR agents.

Now, those same demonstrators may be toasting a return to the days when they were able to ransack rare species from the Amazon without having to worry about the law.