Those affiliated with NGOs also report dangerous conditions on the ground.

“Constant threats across different sectors make working in forest conservation difficult,” Zárate told Mongabay. “You have to deal with the illegal plantation, the extraction of timber and the villager settlements that are nearby.”

There are at least 110 settlements in the area of ​​influence of Bosque Mbaracayú Reserve, San Rafael National Park, Morombí Reserve and Caazapá National Park, according to data from the National Institute of Rural and Land Development. Sources say local participation in marijuana cultivation and logging is nearly universal, even among those who have legal farming businesses.

According to sources who work in these protected areas, drug traffickers used to leave the tallest trees to hide marijuana crops. But they say the last couple of years have seen total clearance of trees; the most valuable are sold for timber and rest are made into charcoal. Then after the trees are cleared, marijuana crops are planted right in the open.

Sawmills generate employment in the region surrounding Caazapá National Park, and several operate in the park’s area of ​​influence. Image by Pánfilo Leguizamón.
Authorities discovered 70 clandestine charcoal-making furnaces in Morombí Reserve. Image by Pánfilo Leguizamón.

However, despite the illegality of growing an illicit crop in a protected area, it appears those who do so may go unprosecuted. The judicial system in the regions of Canindeyú, Caaguazú, Itapúa and Caazapá, where these protected areas converge, holds no record of anyone who has ended up in prison for deforestation charges between 2015 and 2020.

“Based on legal judgments, there were no resolution records on deforestation and logging —specifically from the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice,” said a representative from the Institute of Legal Investigations, which reports to the Supreme Court and is responsible for the country’s judicial statistics.

In 2019, 16 investigations into timber trafficking were conducted by authorities. Of these, 10 focused on Paraguay’s Caaguazú region. According to the Judiciary, 44 people were convicted of violating environmental laws between 2014 and 2019. However, none of these charges included deforestation activities; those convicted were sentenced to community service or paid a fine.

In Mbaracayú alone, 16 complaints about marijuana parcels were filed with the Public Ministry in 2019, but none led to a judicial investigation.

Augusto Salas, deputy prosecutor of the Environment Unit of the Public Ministry, urges stronger judicial participation to eliminate impunity for environmental crimes: “sometimes they laugh at us when we ask for longer sentences, like several years in prison for those who cut forests.”

Salas added that the only way he can see to stop the destruction of Paraguay’s remaining forests is to install military detachments in protected areas.

“Frankly, I don’t see another way out; we are having so many problems on all sides,” Salas said. “It is sad, but we are doing all that we can.”

 

This is a translated and adapted version of a story that was  first published by Mongabay Latam on May 25, 2020.

Banner image by Pánfilo Leguizamón.

Editor’s note: This story was powered by Places to Watch, a Global Forest Watch (GFW) initiative designed to quickly identify concerning forest loss around the world and catalyze further investigation of these areas. Places to Watch draws on a combination of near-real-time satellite data, automated algorithms and field intelligence to identify new areas on a monthly basis. In partnership with Mongabay, GFW is supporting data-driven journalism by providing data and maps generated by Places to Watch. Mongabay maintains complete editorial independence over the stories reported using this data.

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Article published by Morgan Erickson-Davis
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