Three months after protests prevented the dismissal of Luis Alberto Gonzales-Zúñiga Guzmán, executive director of the Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre (Serfor), the minister of agriculture, Jorge Montenegro, has finally secured his removal.
Coinciding with the World Environment Day on 5 June, Montenegro announced the dismissal on the grounds that President Martín Vizcarra had lost confidence in Serfor’s executive director. Gonzales-Zúñiga believes the decision was entirely that of the agriculture minister. The governing board of Serfor, which represents government, civil society (including indigenous peoples) and industry, was apparently not consulted.
Asked by an interviewer why he was dismissed at this point, Gonzales-Zúñiga replied “I was a thorn in their side… It was to be expected at any moment. It strikes me as totally irresponsible to take such a decision in full pandemic when the president is calling for national unity”.
The congressional Committee on Andean Peoples, Environment and Ecology has summoned the minister to explain the sudden removal of Gonzales-Zúñiga, given that it appears to lack any clear pretext. The Vice-president of the Committee, Luz Cayguaray (FREPAP) comments that the dismissal was due to the former director’s refusal to endorse an amendment of the forestry law that would encourage deforestation for oil palm cultivation.
Commenting that transparency and strong institutions are necessary for the protection of forests, the Defensoría has opened an enquiry, interviewed the dismissed director, and requested an explanation from the Ministry of Agriculture as to its reasons for the dismissal.
As a rare example of an official appointed to an administrative position by public competition, Gonzales-Zúñiga’s capacity is not in question. His removal is widely regarded within civil society as a result of the success of his first 18 months of a five year tenure in positioning Serfor as an effective agency in combating illegal logging and deforestation.
Calls for greater autonomy for the forestry protection service are likely to increase as a result of this case.
Gonzales-Zúñiga acknowledges that a strong Serfor runs counter to certain interests within the logging industry and the Ministry of Agriculture, especially in Loreto and Ucayali, which contribute significantly to rapid deforestation in Peru. The rate remains stubbornly high despite Peru’s 2009 commitment to zero net deforestation by 2021.
Gonzales-Zúñiga is considering his legal options as a career civil servant (rather than a political appointee) who cannot be dismissed on grounds of loss of confidence, unless an enquiry reveals grave errors on his part.