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. 

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Related Content

GUATEMALA / 18 OCT 2013

Police arrested two drug traffickers in northeastern Guatemala, but apparently subsequently lost both suspects, in an embarrassing case for Guatemalan…

BARRIO 18 / 20 APR 2017

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the…

GUATEMALA / 9 JUN 2015

Twenty years ago, the United States patiently prepared a punishment for Waldemar Lorenzana Lima, one of the most prominent drug…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…