Albion Monitor /News

Asian Loggers "Devastating" Nicaragua Forests

by Danielle Knight

on Asian companies logging in South America
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Environmental groups have accused the Nicaraguan government of illegally allowing an Asian corporation to plunder Central America's largest rainforest stretching across land owned by indigenous communities.

"We demand that the government respect the legal rights of the Miskito, Sumu, Rama and other indignenous peoples' of the Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast and stop devastating irreplaceable forest," says Soren Ambrose of the Washington-based Nicaragua Network.

Loggers won't meet, negotiate with displaced Native peoples
Following the growing trend in Latin America of granting logging concessions to Asian corporations, particularly in the Amazon, the Nicaraguan government has allowed Solcarsa, a subsidiary of the South Korean corporation Kum Kyung, to cut logs from the rainforest along the North Atlantic Caribbean coast.

In return for promising to invest $20 million in the area, Solcarsa can clear about 250 square miles of rainforest located on the historical land of the indigenous Awas Tingni community, Ambrose alleged.

Despite a 1997 Nicaraguan Supreme Court ruling that the concessions are illegal, the government has failed to enforce that ruling, activists declared.

Environmental groups in Nicaragua and abroad, such as the Nicaragua-based environmental group JA! and the US-based groups Native Forest Network and Rainforest Action Group, are urging the Nicaraguan government to enforce the ruling.

"The logging violates Nicaragua's mahogany export laws and the right of the region's indigenous peoples to determine the use of local resources under the 1987 Autonomy Law," Armstrong Wiggins, a Nicaraguan lawyer with the U.S.-based Indian Law Resource Center told IPS.

Under the Autonomy Law, the land conceeded to Solcarsa cannot be sold and the "natural state of the country should be maintained" because it is the property of local indigenous communities. Environmentalists argue that the concession will destroy irreplacable tracts of forests and destroy watersheds and habitats necessary for wildlife in the nearby BOSAWAS national reserve.

Avram Lee, the Korean manager of Solcarsa's logging operations said in a newspaper interview last year that, while he was interested in doing long-term business in the area, he didn't want to meet with indigenous leaders. "We made a deal with the Government," he said.

"Although Solcarsa is doing the damage, the Nicaraguan government is largely responsible for the indigenous rights abuses," Wiggins charged. "Solcarsa was never even notified by the government when the Supreme Court ruled the concessions illegal."

These 'new' Asian logging multinationals, riding a wave of economic liberalization, have successfully hastened the privatization of the rainforests
Currently, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organisation of American States (OAS) is investigating the Nicaraguan government's alleged failure to enforce the ruling.

The environmental minister of Nicaragua, Roberto Stadthagen Vogi, has pushed for the approval of the concession despite the court ruling, according to Jennifer Fenner of the Nicaragua-based CEPAD, a church organization working with the indigenous communities in the autonomous zone. The group says he argues that the council Autonomous Zone Council should "consider the need to stabilize development in the Nation, especially the Atlantic coast."

Neither Roberto Stadthagen Vogi nor the vice minister, Francisco Guerra Cardinal, could be reached for comment.

Solcarsa, also known as Sol de Caribe, have begun to build roads through the forest. Already one indigenous community, called Fenicia, has been forcibly relocated when the company put in a plywood plant, says Ambrose. Groups say the company will cut their way through many other communities as they log the forest.

Each Fenicia family was offered about $150 to relocate and if they refused -- and many did -- the local authorities and military members forced them to move, says Wiggins. Another indigenous community, Awas Tigni, have also testified that they were pressured to accept contracts with Solcarsa.

Sumu communities, already fleeing the mercury and cyanide mining contamination on the Rio Bambana, now find themselves in the area sold to Solcarsa, says Ambrose.

The concesssion includes the area of Wakamby, a large tract of ancient tropical hardwood forest rich in Mahoghany located between the mining town of Rosita and the Bosawas Reserve. Indigenous people living in the Bosawas region say that the reserve is also being illegally logged with the unofficial consent of the government, says Ambrose.

Having destroyed much of their own original forest cover to logging, multinational corporations from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Burma, as well as South Korea, are swooping into Latin America -- where some trees still stand. These 'new' Asian logging multinationals, riding a wave of economic liberalization, have successfully hastened the privatization of the rainforests, says Fenner.

Nicaragua, burdened with external debts six times the country's gross domestic product in the early 1990's, has been forced to open natural resource extraction to foreign companies under structural adjustment programs (SAPs) engineered by the IMF, World Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank.

SAPs "facilitate the short-term profit exploitation of valuable natural resources for the benefit of mulitnational investors," Fenner argues.

Groups here and throughout Latin America next week are to hold an international day of action against the concessions. In a statement, the groups have asked Nicaraguan President Alberto Aleman to immediately halt logging in the area.

"The purpose of the day of action is to let (Aleman) know that the international community knows that his government is acting in violation of its own Court," says Ambrose.

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Albion Monitor November 16, 1997 (

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