National Geographic : 2003 Jun
"You need to produce something the world really wants, and what the world really wants now is mahogany." town. Built at the confluence of two rivers, it has been a center for rubber tappers, Brazil nut har vesters, gold miners, and, now, loggers. As in many such locales, there are only a handful of big players. I climb on the back of a motorcycle taxi one evening and go to ask one of the biggest, mill operator Alan Schipper Guerovitch, what he thinks of the proposed highway, and, incidentally, who is buying and cutting up all that illegal mahogany? Schipper's mill sits on the edge of town, sur rounded by wooden walls, with an observation tower that lends the impression of a stockade. Empty trucks idle outside. Passing my business card through a slot in the gate, I am admitted by guards and pointed toward the boss's office. Schipper, 31, is blond and wears jeans and a polo shirt. Scion of a famous lumber family, he has a degree from Peru's leading forestry school. We sit at a massive table in a one-story house overlooking the open-air mill. The table, he 92 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * JUNE 2003 confirms, is made of solid mahogany, as are the giant doors, and the desks. He does not, he repeats several times, mill mahogany himself, and he doesn't know who does-too contro versial, too much of a headache. Rather, the mill processes other red hardwoods: cedar, tornillo, and a tree called shihuahuaco. The Transoceanica, Schipper asserts, could only be good for development. It would lower shipping costs and allow the wood to be brought to market much sooner and in better shape. Opposition to it is shortsighted, he feels, because it leaves his country in a position where there is "no way to develop, no possibility of growth." Referring to the chunk of Madre de Dios that is officially unavailable to logging, he says, "I ask you, what nation in the world can sustain its people on only 20 percent of its available resources? In a less developed country you need to produce something the world really wants, and what the world really wants now is mahogany."