HomeNewsBriefDrug Traffickers Destroying Large Sections of CentAm Forests: Report
BRIEF

Drug Traffickers Destroying Large Sections of CentAm Forests: Report

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME / 16 MAY 2017 BY DAVID GAGNE EN

A new study estimates that up to 30 percent of all deforestation in three Central American countries is due to cocaine trafficking, providing some much-needed data on the relationship between environmental damage and Latin America’s drug trade.

The study, published in the Environmental Research Letters journal, says drug trafficking could account for 15 to 30 percent of deforestation in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Unlike in South America’s drug-producing nations, where forests are typically cleared in order to sow coca, Central American drug traffickers often convert forests into pastures for money laundering purposes, the study states.

“As the drugs move north their value increases and the traffickers and cartels are looking for ways to move this money into the legal economy,” the report’s lead author, Steven Sesnie, told the Guardian. “Purchasing forest and turning it into agricultural land is one of the main ways they do that.”

Sesnie said that millions of acres have been deforested over the past decade using this method.

The authors used a “spatio-temporal analysis” to determine the link between cocaine flows and forest loss in a total of six Central American countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. It found the strongest connection between drug trafficking and “anomalous forest loss” in Honduras and Nicaragua, and the weakest relationship in Guatemala and Panama.

The study represents the first broad-scale analysis of how drug trafficking, as opposed to drug cultivation, impacts deforestation, according to the authors.

InSight Crime Analysis

The study offers a rare quantitative analysis of how drug trafficking is a direct cause of environmental harm in Latin America. One academic study, published in 2014, similarly found that drug trafficking plays an important role in deforestation in Central America. The authors of the 2014 report found that traffickers cleared the land in order to build roads and clandestine airstrips, as well as to launder money.

But the relationship between organized crime and deforestation is not uniform throughout the region. Forest loss has been linked to coca growing in Colombia, the world’s largest producer of cocaine. In Brazil, by contrast, criminal organizations slash and burn forests in the Amazon in order to sell the land to ranchers and agribusinesses. Illegal logging is also big business in Brazil, accounting for as much as 80 percent of the country’s timber industry.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Eco Trafficking

Weak government oversight and the enormous profits that criminal groups stand to gain from the exploitation of natural resources are the common threads that run through all of these cases. Brazil has recently loosened several regulations regarding forest conservation, likely making it even easier for organized crime groups to plunder the Amazon with impunity.

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

NICARAGUA / 12 DEC 2011

Nicaragua's Navy reported that it has seized 4.7 tons of cocaine so far in 2011.

HOMICIDES / 31 JUL 2013

Experts have attributed a recent increase in violence Nicaragua's semi-autonomous northeast region to the presence of organized crime and arms…

ELITES AND CRIME / 21 SEP 2018

Guatemala President Jimmy Morales’ decision not to renew the mandate of the CICIG and to block reentry into the country…

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…