Armed men near the Pacific coast are apparently crossing into Nicaragua from Honduras to illegally log, highlighting the vulnerability of the country’s dwindling rainforests to criminal groups.
Community leaders in the department of Chinandega have demanded state assistance against groups responsible for the illegal timber trade, who they say carry AK-47s and are logging deep into Nicaraguan territory, reported La Prensa.
While illegal logging is sometimes carried out to clear land for farming, criminal groups often target precious hardwoods, which are harvested and transported to Honduras, as highlighted by La Prensa earlier this year. According to that report, mahogany has been all but wiped out from Nicaragua's rainforests.
Last year the Nicaraguan government deployed a “green battalion” of soldiers charged with combating illegal logging, while earlier this year the country launched a major reforestation campaign to reverse the loss of the country’s rainforests.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, between 2000 and 2010 Nicaragua’s rainforest cover declined by almost 20 percent.
InSight Crime Analysis
Illegal logging near the Honduran border has long been a problem in Nicaragua, although efforts to combat deforestation have mainly been concentrated in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) along the Caribbean coast, home to the largest rainforest in Central America.
As well as a prime hardwood area, the RAAN is a drug trafficking hotspot heavily infiltrated by illegal groups from neighboring Honduras. The fact that much of the pillaged wood is transported to Honduras, suggests that the logging groups may also originate there, and could even have direct or indirect links to drug trafficking groups that operate in the area.
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These latest claims of armed Hondurans crossing the border to plunder timber coming from the Pacific coast only highlight the extent of the practice. Criminal gangs in Central America appear to be diversifying their criminal portfolios away from just the drug trade, engaging in exortion, kidnapping and now it seem, eco-trafficking. All of these criminal activities flourish in isolated areas where the state's influence is minimal.