DC Politician Linked to CONAF Case
Chamber of Deputies Approves Committee To
Investigate Illegal Alerce Trafficking
(May 14, 2004) Mondays arrest of National
Forestry Corporation (CONAF) director Carlos Weber (ST, May 12)
may not only help put an end to the illegal trade of ancient alerce
trees in southern Chile, but may also put an end to the political
career of a powerful regional politician now linked to the multi-million
Former CONAF attorney Carlos Barahona alleged
Wednesday night that the illegal alerce trade has had a very influential
god-father: Christian Democratic Party Sen. Sergio Paez, from Region
In an interview aired on Channel 13, the
former CONAF lawyer alleged that Sen. Paez had pressured local authorities
and CONAF to allow the illegal cutting of the protected tree species
and that profits from the scam had been used to finance political
campaigns of local politicians like Paez. Barahona also assured
he had documents that can prove his statements.
CONAF is the government agency charged with
overseeing Chiles national parks and protecting endangered
native tree species, such as the alerce.
Paez, a senior DC politician who is currently
in Jordan presiding over an Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting, announced
through DC Sen. Mariano Ruiz-Ezquide that he will file slander charges
Reactions to the new developments in the
case were varied.
Region X Deps. Gabriel Ascencio (DC) and
Fidel Espinoza (PS) called for patience so that more facts can be
gathered, but rejected generic accusations claiming that Region
X politicians used money derived from illegal alerce traffic to
finance election campaigns.
But environmental lawyer Miguel Fredes, director
of the Southern Environmental Law Center (Centro Austral de Derecho
Ambiental CEADA), told the Santiago Times that Paez
involvement in the case is something that environmental organizations
had suspected for quite some time. This will become the CONAF-gate,
a real political scandal, Fredes predicted.
Meanwhile, Carlos Weber remains detained
at a medical clinic in Puerto Montt, Region X, where he was admitted
for heart complications following his arrest on charges of bribery
and influence trafficking. Judge Rosa Muñoz ordered his arrest
as a result of investigations stemming from a 2000 CONAF report
and evidence later presented by environmental groups denouncing
the illegal cutting of alerce and illegal issuing of permits allowing
the transportation of the lumber.
The Ministry of Agriculture, from which CONAF
derives authority, appealed the judges decision. Minister
of Agriculture Jaime Campos declared that Webers arrest was
unconstitutional since the CONAF director had only been summoned
by the court to give evidence.
Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party
Dep. Carlos Recondo strongly criticized the ministers declarations,
saying Campos is pressuring the judge not to investigate the involvement
of government officials any further. Environmental groups, meanwhile,
called for Campos resignation.
Together with other members of the UDI and
of the National Renovation (RN) party, Recondo successfully promoted
Wednesday the creation of a special Chamber of Deputies committee
to investigate and clarify the charges against CONAF. The motion
to create in the investigative committee passed with 85 votes in
favor and two abstentions.
The alerce tree (Fitzroya cupressoides),
otherwise known as the Patagonian cypress, is a relative of the
Californian redwood and sequoia trees and only grows in Patagonian
regions of Chile and Argentina. In some cases the massive trees,
which have been logged heavily since the arrival of Spanish to the
region four centuries ago, can live up to 4,000 years.
Though the species has been protected since
1976, when it was declared a national monument, and is currently
one of the threatened species of the United Nations Convention of
International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), alerce trees
continue to be exploited and used in construction because of their
impermeability and resistance to rot. This happens through illegal
cutting or, in other cases, via a loophole in the 1976 decree that
allows for the collection and commercialization of timber from dead
According to environmental lawyer Fredes,
US$150 million worth of illegal alerce has been exported in the
last eight years, decimating up to 100,000 acres of forest, thanks
to a vast and corrupt network that the environmentalist compared
to a real mafia.
While the government has so far done little
to curb illegal trade of the trees, Webers arrest on Monday,
along with new evidence expected to be presented next week by environmental
groups, may well represent a positive change in the situation.
SOURCE: EL LLANQUIHUE, LA TERCERA,
By Irene Caselli (email@example.com
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