HomeNewsBriefCriminal Activity Spreading Fire in Guatemala's Maya Reserve
BRIEF

Criminal Activity Spreading Fire in Guatemala's Maya Reserve

GUATEMALA / 1 JUL 2016 BY DEBORAH BONELLO EN

Criminal groups are burning huge swathes of protected forests in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve to put down more landing strips for moving drugs out of the country, increasing the environmental damage caused by a variety of criminal activity in the zone.

Drug-traffickers, illegal loggers and clandestine cattle ranchers known locally as narco-ranchers (Narco-ganaderos) are behind more than 160 fires in the biosphere in the last few months -- blazes that have destroyed more than 8,000 hectares of protected tropical forest, reports BBC Mundo. Throughout the whole of last year, the zone saw just 12 fires.

Aura Marina López, Guatemala’s public prosecutor for environmental crimes, said that the last time she flew over the nature reserve she spotted three clandestine landing strips – more than she has ever seen during one flight.

The biosphere covers an area of some 2.1 million hectares, around 19 percent of the country and half of its northern Peten province. Luis Chiguichón, Guatemala’s prosecutor for drug-trafficking activity in the Peten department, has characterized the zone as “lawless”.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

The lack of state law enforcement has allowed drug traffickers and illegal loggers to impose their own de facto rules, using local people to start fires and clear spaces, according to Lopez.

InSight Analysis

Environmental destruction by organized crime in Guatemala’s Peten department is nothing new -- InSight Crime highlighted the damaging effects of illicit activity there back in 2012. But these latest reports suggest that razing of the forests is on the rise, pointing to surge in the use of the area as a major transportation corridor for drugs moving north.

It also points to an increase in the use of cattle farming to launder money.

Some 80 percent of the cocaine headed for the United States passes through Peten, according to the US State Department. It is Guatemala’s most northern province, bordered on two sides by Mexico. The Peten is huge, sparsely populated and mostly covered by lush vegetation.

Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel is reportedly the powerhouse in the region, after fighting off competition from rival Mexican cartel the Zetas. The latter group unsuccessfully tried to take control of trafficking routes in the Peten in 2011 through a violent campaign that included one massacre of 27 farm laborers.

The Sinaloa Cartel has strong relationships there and does business with most of Guatemala's criminal drug transportation networks.

The use of Peten as a major trafficking corridor waned towards the end of the administration of former president Alvaro Colom, picking up again when Otto Pérez Molina took power. The Guatemalan government has had some success in fighting criminal groups operating in Peten -- most notably under the supervision of former Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, who successfully rounded up Zetas and their associates in 2011.

It is a huge challenge for the Guatemalan authorities to control such a vast swathe of territory, especially when locals are complicit in and paid for the environmental destruction. 

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BOLIVIA / 6 SEP 2011

A Bolivian politician claims that General Rene Sanabria, the jailed former anti-drug czar, incriminated former police chief Oscar Nina in…

EL SALVADOR / 30 APR 2019

Widespread fear of street gangs in the Northern Triangle countries is being exploited by copycat groups who pose as gang…

GUATEMALA / 23 MAR 2012

Police in Guatemala have arrested a man attempting to leave the country with nearly $50,000 concealed in his stomach, a…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Guatemala Social Insecurity Investigation Makes Front Page News

10 DEC 2021

InSight Crime’s latest investigation into a case of corruption within Guatemala's social security agency linked to the deaths of patients with kidney disease made waves in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…