Eight amazon nations came together to bolster regional cooperation and protect the rainforest that they share, agreeing to a list of environmental policies and measures under a joint statement at a summit in Belem, Brazil.
“Drug-related crimes are fundamentally linked to deforestation and associated environmental crimes. On the one hand, cocaine production, processing, and trafficking have direct and indirect effects on forest cover and biodiversity loss, from logging and land clearing to make way for coca bushes, to river pollution generated by the chemicals involved in cocaine production,” Robert Muggah, co-founder and director of the Brazilian think tank Igarapé Institute, told Diálogo.
The Belém Declaration also points to the need for regional cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of environmental crimes and the importance of harmonizing the legislation and public policies of the countries involved, in order to develop protocols for action, regulation, and control of activities in the forest.
For Muggah, this is important because most countries in the Amazon have different legal interpretations of what constitutes environmental crime. “These contrasting approaches can have implications both in terms of the types of crimes that are prioritized by public authorities, and how to prosecute them. Prosecuting international criminal cases is challenging, and even more so when there are competing interpretations of what constitutes environmental crimes,” Muggah said.
The Belem Declaration also asserted indigenous rights and protections, while also agreeing to cooperate on water management, health, and sustainable development. What the declaration failed to agree on was on a common policy to combat deforestation.
Under the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, deforestation in the Amazon was reduced by 33.6 percent in the first half of 2023, compared to the same period last year. The month of June registered the lowest rate of deforestation in the last four years.
In Colombia, Muggah says that the country’s authorities have stepped up large-scale operations to combat environmental crime, especially since 2021, many of them involving a combination of security agencies, including the Armed Forces and the Police, as well as environmental agencies. He cites the Ministry of Defense’s efforts through the creation of an environmental protection force in 2022 to combat armed groups and protect biodiversity.
Peruvian President Dina Boularte, in a meeting with Brazilian President Lula da Silva on the eve of the summit, proposed “a firm and clear alliance to curb environmental crimes, such as illegal logging and mining, drug and species trafficking, and pollution, which are destroying the Amazon.”
Muggah says that in 2018 Peru created an unprecedented special court within the Ministry of the Environment to process more than 20,000 pending complaints of environmental crimes and, in 2022, passed a new law on wildlife trafficking.
“Peru has also established a National Multilateral Strategy to Combat Illegal Logging for 2021-2025. The Ministry of Mines and Energy has also stepped up activities to formalize the licensing of artisanal and small-scale miners since 2012. More than 70,000 miners applied to be integrated into the legal mining process in 2017, but only 161 mining operations, representing 3,000 miners, completed the process by 2021,” Muggah said.
At the summit, presidents from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru attended the event in person, while Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela sent other top officials.