A writer for the respected and popular environmental website Mongabay, Yvette Sierra Praeli, was issued with a lawsuit by Peruvian cacao company, Tamshi, in what has been described as a campaign of intimidation.
The lawsuit, which was dismissed by the court in November, came about after Praeli covered a story related to a government investigation into the company’s activities in the Peruvian Amazon, where there are efforts to reduce deforestation.
An investigation into Tamshi for “crimes against forests or wooded formations” was launched in 2013 by Alberto Yusen Caraza, an environmental prosecutor working for the Public Ministry of Peru.
In 2019, three Tamshi employees were convicted of “crimes of illegal trafficking of timber and forest products and aggravated obstruction of justice.” In addition, the company was ordered to pay a fine of more than $4.2 million for damage caused to the ecosystem.
As evidence, satellite imaging technology was used to reconstruct the history of the forest. This showed that the area that is home to the cacao plantations was once a primary forest that was cut down without permission. (For an explanation of the differences between forest types, including primary forest, see this article.)
Matt Finer, director of the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project, commented on the matter, “This is the definition of ‘not sustainable’. From my point of view, it is not acceptable – and certainly not sustainable – to cut down standing forest, let alone primary forest, for large scale agriculture.”
Tamshi made allegations of “aggravated defamation”, surrounding the use of the word “deforestation” in the article published by Mongabay. The firm asserts that they were not convicted of deforestation, and therefore the word should be removed from the article, lest it “unfairly generate(s) a public rejection of Tamshi S.A.C.”
Mongabay claims their article used the word “deforestation” because Caraza, the official prosecuting the case referred to it as “an emblematic case due to the magnitude of deforestation.”
The darker side of the industry hides behind loosely defined terms, but most definitions accept that “the action of clearing a wide area of trees” resulting in loss of canopy to less than 10% of the original constitutes deforestation. So it would reasonably appear to be the appropriate use of the word in this context.
Ironically, Tamshi’s website appears to emphasise their environmental credentials with headlines of being ‘A model for Conservation and Reserve”, so it’s not surprising the company is concerned about allegations that impact their environmental credentials.
Although the case was ultimately thrown out almost a year later, it appears to be just one instance in a string of lawsuits by the Peruvian cacao company. Praeli’s lawyer, Rivera, said that the article was “absolutely in accordance with the law”, and that such tactics aim to use legal power “as a kind of stick against journalists.”
A similar case earlier in 2019 saw Lucila Pautrat struck with a two-year suspended sentence and a fine of nearly $12,300, which she has appealed. The alleged crime in this instance was, again, “aggravated defamation”.
Pautrat runs an environmental watchdog, Kené, and had published articles that reported statements taken from farmers, regarding accusations of crimes against property as well as other legal proceedings against Tamshi.
Pautrat’s lawyer, Carlos Manuel Bravo Evaristo stated that the case was “an act of intimidation to stop publishing news of public interest.”
Tamshi went on to sue Julio Guzmán Mendoza, the state attorney for the Ministry of the Environment, for providing documents used in Praeli’s case. “It is an act of intimidation,” Guzman said, speaking with Mongabay, “I am being sued for doing my job. And just as they do with me, they do with other prosecutors.”With sustainability at the forefront of global agricultural discussion at the moment, we hope that more brave journalists such as Yvette Sierra Praeli, and Lucila Pautrat continue to stand against corporations with deep pockets, but shallow morals.