Nicaragua's army has captured the alleged leader of a ring of land traffickers – a common crime in the country with links to timber mafias, cattle ranchers and corrupt officials.
The military's specialist Ecological Battalion captured Jorge Wilfredo Aragon Gonzalez in Bonanza, a town in Nicaragua's North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), reported La Prensa.
Aragon stands accused of illegal land sales and organizing land invasions in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve. Authorities believe he is part of a group of 12 people dedicated to land trafficking in the reserve.
The arrest of Aragon follows the conviction last year of Victor Manuel Taleno on charges of land theft. During the investigation, authorities identified 16 heads of land trafficking outfits involved in promoting land invasions in the reserve.
Land theft has been a constant source of tension in the region. In April last year, confrontations between "colonists" and the local indigenous population spilled over into bloodshed when land invaders killed an indigenous leader, reported the Nicaragua Dispatch.
The murder prompted the indigenous community to organize themselves into an armed militia to protect the land, only standing down after the National Police intervened to evict the invaders.
InSight Crime Analysis
Land trafficking is a major issue throughout Nicaragua and especially in indigenous reserves in the RAAN and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS).
As in the case of Bosawas, it is often linked to the illegal timber trade. The local population says it has documented the invasion of 11,500 "colonists," who have deforested 150,000 hectares of forest, according to the Nicaragua Dispatch. Land is also frequently cleared by invaders on behalf of cattle ranchers and gold prospectors.
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The invaders are frequently organized and directed by land trafficking rings such as the one allegedly headed by Aragon. In Bosawas, the indigenous population also accuse corrupt government officials of profiting from the crime.
The government itself has also been accused of land theft. In one prominent case in 2012, the property of a Swiss-Nicaraguan was seized by police and local officials claiming the land was being appropriated by the government, but without providing any judicial order or any other documents to support their claim.
Part of the land was then turned over to a former-Sandinista guerrilla and ally of President Daniel Ortega, sparking a long running legal battle.