Environment - Chile
Isabel Allende Helps Defend Native Forests
26 July, 2002
SANTIAGO, Jul 26 (IPS) - Isabel Allende, Chile's most internationally renowned woman writer, is at the centre of a dispute over Chile's native forests, which she and local environmentalists are working desperately to save.
According to the local press, the author of ''The House of the Spirits'', ''Eva Luna'', ''Paula'' and other well-known novels is at the head of a drive to get the United States to demand that forest products from Chile be certified by the international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Agriculture Minister Jorge Campos said Thursday that if the United States demanded environmental certification of forestry imports from Chile, it would amount to a ''non-tariff trade barrier.'' He also warned that the Chilean government might file a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) if that were to occur.
Five Chilean environmental groups launched a campaign in March to press logging companies to agree to submit the products they export to the United States to inspections by the FSC, in order to sell their timber as ''certified wood'' under the organisation's trademark logo.
The FSC is an international non-profit group founded in 1993 ''to support environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world's forests,'' according to the organisation's web site. The head office is located in Oaxaca, Mexico.
The group's ''independent, credible and international labeling scheme'' for forest products ''provides a credible guarantee that the product comes from a well-managed forest.''
The forest inspections are carried out, at the request of landowners, ''by a number of FSC accredited certification bodies, which are evaluated and monitored to ensure their competence and credibility.''
FSC members include representatives of environmental and social groups, the timber trade and the forestry profession, indigenous people's organisations, community forestry groups and forest product certification organisations from around the world.
Five local groups - Defenders of the Chilean Forest, the National Committee for the Defence of Fauna and Flora, the Terram Foundation, Greenpeace Chile and Old-growth Forest - have been making contact with the forestry industry in Chile to convince companies to agree to FSC certification.
The campaign is promoted ''jointly by Chilean and U.S. citizen groups,'' the five Chilean organisations stated in a communique Thursday.
The aim is ''to protect Chile's native forests, which have historically been over-exploited, and of which only a small fraction still survives today,'' they added.
The environmentalists want the FSC to certify that the timber products sent to the U.S. market do not come from monoculture plantations of exotic - in other words, non-native - species like pine or eucalyptus planted on land where the native forest still has a chance to recover.
The activists also want ''to immediately and definitively curb the replacement of native forest with artificial plantations.''
Classified ads that will list the campaign's prominent backers, such as Isabel Allende, are to be taken out in U.S. newspapers like The New York Times.
Reporter Malú Sierra, the coordinator of Defenders of the Chilean Forest, said Allende joined the organisation 11 years ago, as did other prominent Chilean cultural personalities such as poet Nicanor Parra, orchestra conductor Juan Pablo Izquierdo, artist Mario Irarrázabal and scientist Humberto Maturana.
The local press has put special emphasis on Allende's participation in the initiative. However, a misleading front page article in the daily La Tercera stated Thursday that the writer ''is heading a campaign against Chilean wood.''
''That was obviously an attempt at manipulation. The correct headline should have read that Isabel Allende is participating in a campaign to defend Chile's native forests,'' journalist Johanna Ortiz told IPS.
The Chilean Wood Corporation (CORMA), the logging industry business council, sent a letter to parliament warning lawmakers that the campaign could trigger a boycott of Chilean forestry products in the United States.
The initiative is causing ''enormous concern'' among the logging industry, said the president of CORMA, José Ignacio Letamendi, who met with Agriculture Minister Campos.
Letamendi pointed out that timber exports to the United States from this country of 16 million amounted to 512 million dollars last year, and are projected to climb to 600 million this year.
According to Corma, the FSC ''is a body run by environmental groups that are seeking a monopoly over the certification of forest management around the world.''
But the local environmental groups refuted such claims, underlining that ''the FSC is an organisation with international prestige which ensures that its logo is a guarantee of economically viable, socially just and environmentally responsible stewardship'' of forests.
Four logging companies operating in Chile are FSC certified, including Terranova, which is controlled by Swiss capital, and Forestal Monte Aguila, which belongs to the Anglo-Dutch oil multinational Shell.
The controversy over the question of environmental certification is just one aspect of the long-running conflict surrounding Chile's native forests, the logging of which is not regulated by law, although a bill designed to do so was introduced in parliament 10 years ago.
It is lobbying by the timber industry that has kept Congress from approving the law, environmentalists complain.
The campaign in favour of certifying Chile's forestry products cites a 1995 report by the Central Bank of Chile, according to which the native forests will disappear in 20 years at the current rate of deforestation.
The report was drawn up by economist Marcel Claude, who at the time headed the recently created Department of Environmental Accounts. He is now executive director of the Terram Foundation.
Claude's report triggered howls of outrage from the logging industry, after which the Central Bank dismissed the economist and dismantled the Department of Environmental Accounts.
Today, environmentalists warn that the native forests are disappearing at an even faster rate than Claude predicted in his 1995 report. (END/IPS/LA/EN/TRA-SO SW/GGR/DCL/02)
By Gustavo González
Defensores del Bosque Chileno
Diagonal Oriente 1413
Chile Tel. 56.2.2041914
Fax 56.2.2092527 http://www.elbosquechileno.cl