Authorities in Mexico have called for legal reforms that would link environmental and organized crime, a measure which -- if adopted -- could lead to a significant improvement in how governments across Latin America combat the scourge of illicit wildlife trafficking.
During a recent conference on wildlife and forest crime held in Cancun, representatives from Mexico's Attorney General's Office for Environmental Protection (Profepa) said the lack of a normative framework linking environmental and organized crime has impeded effective action against the region's eco-traffickers, reported El Universal.
Israel Alvarado, Director of Profepa's environmental crimes unit, spoke of the necessity for legal reforms throughout the region that recognize the connection between environmental and organized crime. Alvarado said eco-traffickers use the same methods and routes as drug and arms traffickers, and that linking the two would permit investigators to use tools already being utilized in the fight against organized crime, such as wiretaps, electronic surveillance and undercover operations.
Alvarado also suggested considering earnings derived from eco-trafficking as a form of money laundering, thereby allowing banking institutions and financial investigation units to help dismantle these networks.
The conference, which was organized by Profepa and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), was intended to identify common strategies for combating environmental crime, and was attended by representatives from 16 Latin American and Caribbean countries.
InSight Crime Analysis
Calls for linking environmental crime with organized crime is perhaps indicative of a growing awareness about the prevalence of eco-trafficking in Latin America, and the need for legal measures to combat its detrimental effects.
The black market for wildlife is big business, netting traffickers an estimated $19 billion per year globally. Owing to its biodiversity, Latin America is a key region sourcing this illicit trade, with the practice of "shark finning" -- whereby sharks are killed for their fins to make shark fin soup, a delicacy in Asia -- a particularly acute problem. Indeed, just days following the conclusion of the conference in Cancun, Mexican authorities confiscated 3,559 kilos of shark fins and 529 fish bladders (also used to make soup) that were destined for Hong Kong.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Eco Trafficking
In addition to wildlife trafficking, illegal logging is another major criminal industry in several countries throughout the region, most notably Peru and Brazil.
The challenge of confronting eco-trafficking in Latin America is compounded by several issues. These include a general lack of awareness, weak legal enforcement, and a host of criminal groups with pre-existing smuggling networks ready to profit from the trade.
As such, if Latin American countries do in fact start to pursue eco-traffickers much as they already do organized crime networks, this would likely be an important step towards tackling a trade that has had devastating environmental impacts throughout the region.