Authorities in Brazil have dismantled a criminal network they claim is the principal organization profiting from the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon, in a rare victory against the widespread impunity enjoyed by groups profiting from illegal logging and land trafficking.
In a joint operation between the Federal Police and the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA), officials arrested eight members of what police called "currently the largest deforesters of the Brazilian Amazon," reported the AP.
The network stands accused of organizing invasions of huge plots of land, slashing and burning the forest and then selling it to ranchers and agribusiness; the eight suspects face charges of invasion of public territory, tax evasion, money laundering, and environmental crimes, reported EFE.
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According to government officials, the organization is responsible for 10 percent of the deforestation in the tropical rainforest over the past two years, and environmental damages caused by the group are valued at over $229 million, reported El Pais.
If found guilty, the suspects may face up to 50 years in prison.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Brazilian Amazon is a criminal gold mine for illegal loggers, land traffickers, and wildlife traffickers, who take in huge profits but rarely face prosecution.
Such networks are a major cause of deforestation, either for illegal logging -- which according to the Brazilian government accounts for an estimated 80 percent of logging in the country -- or for land trafficking for the ranching and agricultural sector, as allegedly carried out by this group.
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Despite taking measures such as sending troops to jungle regions, using drones to monitor environmental crime, and developing a "chain of custody" system to trace timber exports (pdf), the Brazilian state has struggled to control environmental crime and impunity remains the norm in such cases.
Even if the scale of the operations of the group recently arrested is not as extensive as has been made out, the case makes a welcome exception to the norm of Latin American states floundering in the face of eco-trafficking.
Taking steps to tackle such networks is an urgent matter. Not only do they cause devastating and in many cases irreversible environmental damage, they also generate substantial levels of violence and have made Brazil the most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists.