An indigenous leader in Nicaragua says loggers are offering weapons to his community in exchange for illegally logging forests in their territory, providing yet another example of how Latin America's indigenous communities can become entangled in organized crime.
"They say, 'you have problems, give me 1,500 cubic meters of wood. We are going to facilitate weapons to you so you can fight against the colonists,'" Hilario Thompson, a representative of the indigenous party Yatama, said in an interview with La Prensa. The "colonists" refer to people who occupy indigenous lands without permission.
According to Thompson, some 5,000 hectares of forest located in indigenous territory have been illegally harvested by loggers. Thompson says the National Forest Institute (Instituto Nacional Forestal - Inafor) is complicit in this process.
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The fight over indigenous land resulted in bloodshed earlier this year. In January, two settlers were killed and five others were held hostage during confrontations in one of the country's autonomous indigenous regions.
InSight Crime Analysis
Land grabbing and timber trafficking on indigenous territory is a perennial problem in Nicaragua, which can be aggravated by either corrupt or absent government officials. But similar encounters between indigenous communities and organized crime is all too common in many other parts of Latin America as well, with often tragic consequences for the local populations.
Across the region, indigenous groups are threatened by criminal organizations looking to exploit natural resources on indigenous lands. The Wounaan people in Panama have documented how illegal logging and cattle ranching have caused deforestation and contamination of their waterways. Illegal diamond mining has also wreaked havoc on territory belonging to the Cinta-Larga in Brazil. And in Mexico, advocates say indigenous people's exposure to chemicals used on marijuana and poppy crops could be responsible for a rise in cancer cases among indigenous children.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Eco-trafficking
Of course, some indigenous communities are complicit in these criminal schemes. In Venezuela, 50 members of the Warao community were prosecuted in just one year for crimes related to drug and fuel smuggling. Official US documents released by Wikileaks in 2012, also indicated Nicaragua's indigenous groups may be involved in drug trafficking.