HomeNewsBriefHigh Exotic Wood Prices Driving Illegal Logging In Panama
BRIEF

High Exotic Wood Prices Driving Illegal Logging In Panama

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME / 22 APR 2014 BY SETH ROBBINS EN

The high price of an exotic wood has spurred a rash of timber theft in the forests of Panama, threatening the region’s tropical jungles as traffickers seek to satisfy demand in Asia.

Timber from Cocobolo trees — a relative of Rosewood used in expensive gunstocks, knife handles and high-end carpentry — now fetches between $3,000 and $4,000 a ton, causing swathes of the forest to be illegally cut down in protected areas that surround Bayano Lake and the Panama Canal, as well as within the southern Darien region, reported Critica. The newspaper stated the trade is being driven by Asian merchants who contract indigenous people from nearby communities to carry out the logging.

According to Critica, two high-ranking officials are the subject of an internal National Police investigation for apparent links to the illegal Cocobolo trade.

A primary destination for the Cocobolo wood appears to be China, as highlighted by a $4 million consignment of the wood recently seized from 13 shipping containers in the Port of Balboa — at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal. The load was listed as scrap metal, but Panamanian customs found 200 Cocobolo logs ready to be sent to Hong Kong.

Last year authorities seized 700 cubic meters of Cocobolo wood. The problem appears to be escalating in 2014, with authorities saying they have already seized 500 cubic meters this year, not including the $4 million haul.

InSight Crime Analysis

The intense demand for exotic woods in Asia, coupled with insufficient oversight and enforcement by authorities in impoverished countries of provenance, has spurred illegal logging in much of Central America, as in other parts of the world.

According to recent reports, Central America’s largest protected forest, Nicaragua’s Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, has been invaded by Chinese-controlled “wood mafias” that also operate with the help of corrupt officials. Mexico is also a major consumer of imported wood from around the region, as well as experiencing its own problems with illegal deforestation.

Interpol estimates the global trade in illegal wood to be worth between $30 billion and $100 billion annually.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Eco Trafficking

While sometimes co-opted by the traffickers, Panama’s indigenous communities have also been vocal critics of illegal logging. The Wounaan people, who live between Panama and Colombia in the inhospitable jungles of the Darien Gap, recently took part in a documentary on the threats posed by deforestation after illegal loggers, harvesting Cocobolo wood, murdered a local chief.

There is little to indicate that the thefts are connected to local drug cartels, but the drug trade also has a role in illegal deforestation, with forests cleared to make way for clandestine runways, allow for drug transit and build cattle ranches used to launder money. A recent Ohio State University study found that rates of deforestation quadrupled in Honduras from 2007 to 2011, a period during which the country witnessed increasing drug trafficking and organized crime activity.

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

PANAMA / 3 AUG 2016

Bagdad, along with its rival Calor Calor, is one of Panama’s two main gang federations, consisting of 30-40 smaller gangs…

ELITES AND CRIME / 29 SEP 2016

Panama's foreign ministry has formally requested that the United States extradite the country's former President Ricardo Martinelli, a move that…

ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME / 28 AUG 2017

A new report has highlighted the need for authorities in Mexico to treat the trafficking of illegal fish bladders as…

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…