‘It’s the Wild West,’ says Greenpeace Amazonas’ logistics co-ordinator Dave Logie. ‘If you block a truck in the middle of the jungle, the truck driver might just turn around and shoot you.’ Dave is a thickset Scot who spent his earlier years working in Britain on anti-nuclear and over-fishing campaigns. ‘ If you do an action in Europe you’re going to get knocked around a little bit but you’re not going to be murdered.’
Greenpeace works closely with IBAMA, Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment, to co-ordinate raids on illegal logging operations. A series of joint operations in 2001 led to the banning of mahogany-felling in the Amazon, Greenpeace’s first major victory here.
With success came critics. After receiving a number of death threats, the Greenpeace offices were put under permanent guard and staff now travel in bullet-proof vehicles. ‘ The bullet-proof vests are pretty hot to wear, so they’re optional,’ says Logie.
Critics also emerged from within the Brazilian administration who fear that international organizations or other countries will try to exercise control over the world’s largest jungle. ‘We wanted to do a really big bust with IBAMA at the end of 2003, but at the last minute the Brazilian army intervened and put heavy pressure on the Government not to because they were frightened we were getting too pally.’
Greenpeace Amazonas helps locate illegal logging activity and co-ordinate protests to draw media attention to the deforestation. One of the most fiercely contested areas of Pará has been around Porto de Moz, a small river town whose inhabitants are divided over the creation of a reserve to protect the local communities. Protesters there have little defence against the heavily armed loggers who force them to sell their land for token amounts. Refusal to sell can mean eviction at gunpoint. The mayor of Porto de Moz – an enthusiastic logger who operates the local sawmill – has little interest in land rights, and the local police force is too small to deal with widespread intimidation.
‘We blockaded the river with the [Porto de Moz] communities in about 50 little boats, carrying all their old women and children. A couple of the barges, full of logs, came and stopped. The stand-off lasted two days and then in the middle of the night one of the barges decided to ram the blockade. They would have sunk about 20 boats for sure, because everyone was sleeping. I managed to push the nose of the barge into the bank with the Anaconda [the Greenpeace jet boat] just in the nick of time and all the guys from the communities jumped on the barge and beat the shit out of [our attackers].’
But the river proved safer than the jungle, as Logie soon found out while trying to escort two female journalists from São Paulo to a nearby plane with footage of the attempted ramming. ‘All the loggers came after us. About 200 of them surrounded us, beat us up and destroyed all the film, smashed the cameras. The journalists were hysterical. I really thought I was going to die. Luckily two local police showed up and decided that they would help – firing in the air, trying to get the loggers to back off. They managed to get us into a boat and we got away. I owe my life to those two guys. They could have turned a blind eye.’
After intense lobbying, the Brazilian Government created two extractive reserves of two million hectares, one around Porto de Moz called Verde Para Sempre (Green Forever). Both were signed into existence by presidential decree late last year. Nevertheless, the illegal logging is continuing – covertly now – as the Brazilian Government has yet to introduce measures to ensure the reserves’ integrity. And without greater law enforcement, the violence continues too. In February this year Dorothy Stang, a 74-year-old nun and committed environmentalist, was assassinated by two gunmen.
Dave Logie knows that the fight for survival – his own as well as the Amazon’s – actively requires the making of alliances. ‘Communities support Greenpeace and are aware of environmental issues because it is their life. We can give them a voice, which is what they need. There are 20 million people living in the Amazon. It’s not just forest.’
Dave Logie talked with Sholto Macpherson