USAID sponsors MABET’s four timber concessions in the Pacahuara Nation’s original territory
U.S. NGO defines the forest policies of Pando
By Wilson García Mérida
March 17, 2011
Translated by Scott Campbell
(Sol de Pando). - All the actions carried out by the timber companies INFORCASA and MABET in order to appropriate the Pacahuara’s territory were supported with certifications and audits, in favor of their displacement, issued by Rainforest Alliance, the USAID NGO, which in July of last year was ordered to leave Bolivia by the Association of the Municipalities of Pando (AMDECO)… and which as of today still hasn’t.
The U.S. non-governmental organization Rainforest Alliance, closely linked to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is the country’s main “certifier” of timber concessions through its “SmartWood” program which began in 1996 under the auspisces of Law 1700 (the Forestry Law), enacted by the first Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada government and still in effect under the current Plurinational State.
The “SmartWood” certifications that Rainforest Alliance grants come with the institutional backing of private entities such as the Bolivia Forest Chamber (CBF) and the Sustainable Forestry Management Project (BOLFOR), also financed by USAID.
The theoretical and apparent purpose of the “certifications” entrusted to Rainforest Alliance, which issues a “green seal” to timber exporters - and which the Bolivian government is obligated to recognize in compliance with Law 1700 - is to guarantee the supposed “sustainable management of the forests:” although in fact this said “green seal” is an exemption allowing for the export of industrialized and partially-finished precious woods, directed in particular at the U.S. market.
“When the forestry agency certifies the forest being used or the industry, a Green Seal is received, which is the guarantee for the consumers that the product they are purchasing comes from a responsibly-managed forest,” says an article published in December 2009 by the Bolivian Foreign Commerce Institute (IBCE), revealing the true purpose of the “forest certifications” required by U.S. law.
MABET, the most “certified”
The USAID’s “SmartWood” program has its main center of action in the tropical forests of Bolivia. The country’s timber companies boast of topping the worldwide rankings of “certified” forests. In fact, a report issued in July 2004 by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC, a member of the Rainforest Alliance network), reported that “in the world there are 24 countries with certified tropical forests, reaching a surface total of approximately 4,462,157 hectares, of which Bolivia has 1,474,175 hectares, which represent 33% of the total, placing the country in first place worldwide as to the extent of certified tropical forests.” The same report adds that “in second place is Brazil, which has 1,249,204 hectares of tropical forests representing 28%, followed by Guatemala with 455,309 hectares and 10% of the total area.”
Updated 2009 numbers (ICBE) establish a total of 2,093,160 hectares of “certified” timber forests, that is to say almost 10% of the country’s forest resources are linked to the business of lumber for parquetry, furniture, doors, windows, parts and pieces, etc. The main market for tropical Bolivian wood is the United States; with an annual average export value of 14 million USD; followed by England with $7 million and France with $3 million.
The “Etienne Bolivian Timber Merchants” company (MABET), figures among the 20 Bolivian lumber export companies which have “voluntarily” submitted to the Rainforest Alliance certifications, being one of the main providers of wood products to the U.S. market. Its original focus, since 1985 when it set up as a construction company, was the manufacturing of furniture and prefabricated homes and not lumber extraction, exporting to the U.S. 90% of its product. The furniture-maker MABET linked up with the forestry sector in 2000, during the Banzer government, through a shady venture with INFORCASA (Cachuela Esperanza Forestry Industry, S.A.) of Santa Cruz, which held three concessions in Pacahuara territory in the Federico Román Province, in Pando, since 1997 and lasting for a period of 40 years. The owners of MABET created a company called nothing less than the “Pacahuara Forestry and Agroindustrial Company, S.A.,” which was illegally subcontracted by INFORCASA to exploit the forests on the banks of the Negro and Pacahuara rivers until 2006. Finishing this work, and in the midst of claims of tax evasion in the millions and judicial actions by the National Tax Service (SIN), “Pacahuara S.A.” intentionally declared itself bankrupt, giving MABET a chance to form a forestry business, to which INFORCASA transferred the three concessions on indigenous land it had held since 1997 (thanks to the Banzer government), and to which was added a fourth concession obtained directly by MABET. Discounting small areas that were cut out by the National Agrarian Reform Institute in order to provide land to peasants inside of the concessions, under the stipulations of Law 3545, MABET at present holds a total of 222,609 hectares in the heart of indigenous territory which has historically belonged, according to records that date to the colonial era, to the Pacahuara Nation.
All the actions carried out by INFORCASA and MABET in order to appropriate the Pacahuara’s territory were supported with certifications and audits, in favor of their displacement, issued by Rainforest Alliance, the USAID NGO, which was ordered by the Association of the Municipalities of Pando (AMDECO) on July 6, 2010, to leave the Bolivian Amazon region, a deadline which passed eight months ago.