A worker wearing a protective mask due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak carries a saw blade after it was confiscated during a police operation named Flora Amazonica against illegal sawmills and loggers in Manacapuru near Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil June 2, 2020. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly
MANAUS, Brazil (Reuters) – Police stormed a dozen sawmills in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest in a dawn raid on Tuesday, arresting about 30 people accused of involvement in an illegal logging ring.
A criminal group behind those arrested spans a web of loggers, sawmill workers, furniture makers and drivers as well as public officials taking bribes, state police said in a statement.
The sawmills were located near Manaus, the state capital of Amazonas, Brazil’s largest rainforest state.
A Reuters photographer witnessed armed police confiscating industrial saws and truckloads of lumber, totaling more than a thousand cubic meters of wood.
The criminal ring linked to Tuesday’s raids has cut down some 9,000 trees that were each over 100 years old in the span of 10 months, according to police.
Deforestation hit an 11-year high in 2019 and has continued to climb in 2020, rising 55% between January and April as compared to a year ago.
About 99% of deforestation in Brazil last year was illegal, according to deforestation mapping initiative Mapbiomas.
Environmental advocates blame the policies of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office last year, for emboldening illegal loggers, miners and land speculators to destroy the forest.
Bolsonaro has called for the development of the Amazon to lift its people out of poverty and says he is being unfairly demonized.
Reporting by Bruno Kelly; Writing by Jake Spring; Editing by Tom Brown