On 12 March, 23 civil society organisations with briefs that include indigenous territorial rights, deforestation and illegal logging challenged the attempted dismissal of the executive director of the Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre (SERFOR), Luis Alberto Gonzales-Zúñiga Guzmán, by a vice-minister of agriculture with close links to the Exporters’ Association (ADEX).

The SERFOR director, who was appointed via a public competition in January 2019, rejected the approach from the ministry, demanding a formal letter from the governing board to whom he is responsible, setting out the grounds for dismissal, his tenure being for five years. As we went to press, no such letter had materialised.

The attempted dismissal came after SERFOR had developed preventative measures to curb the high proportion of logs exported illegally from Peru and to improve the traceability of wood extracted from the rainforest.

Gonzalez-Zúñiga had also taken a decisive role in the criminal case against those behind the attempted export to the United States and Mexico of a cargo of illegal timber aboard the Peruvian ship Yacu Kallpa in 2015. Soon after, the US Trade Representative Office considered 90% of timber coming from Peru illegal, and in 2017 blocked imports altogether.

The current minister of agriculture was the director of SERFOR when these illegal exports occurred. We do not know whether this is just coincidence or not.

In an extended interview with Ojo Público, Gonzales-Zúñiga estimated between 45% and 60% of Peruvian timber as currently illegal at source, with potential for reducing the level to between 2-4%. His aim is to reduce the illegal component to 0%, only achievable by addressing the 150,000 hectares deforested every year.

Unfortunately, he said, the forestry sector is plagued with informality and illegality but SERFOR, with its insistence on traceability, knows that it generates many difficulties for those operating illegally. Legal operators, on the other hand, have been eager to cooperate.

Asked what policies the incoming Congress could take to address deforestation and illegal logging, Gonzales-Zúñiga pointed to the incompatibility between the six institutions operating ineffectively under the Ministry of Agriculture. He said it took up to 60% of his time to coordinate between them.

In his view, a grouping of regional governments, OSINFOR (forest services and fauna) and a SERFOR independent from the Agriculture Ministry could achieve significant results.

Gonzales-Zúñiga also argued that a problem on the scale of deforestation and illegal logging should be addressed by the president, alongside his campaign against corruption, and placed under the presidency of the Council of Ministers.