AboutZoos, Since 2008


Drug traf­fick­ing leads to defor­esta­tion in Cen­tral America

pub­lished 04 Feb­ru­ary 2014 | mod­i­fied 25 Decem­ber 2014

Add yet another threat to the list of prob­lems fac­ing the rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing rain­forests of Cen­tral Amer­ica: drug trafficking.

Airstrip illegal traffickingIn an arti­cle in the jour­nal Sci­ence, seven researchers who have done work in Cen­tral Amer­ica point to grow­ing evi­dence that drug traf­fick­ing threat­ens forests in remote areas of Hon­duras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and nearby coun­tries. Traf­fick­ers are slash­ing down forests, often within pro­tected areas, to make way for clan­des­tine land­ing strips and roads to move drugs, and con­vert­ing forests into agribusi­nesses to laun­der their drug prof­its, the researchers say.

Much of this appears to be a response to U.S.-led anti-​trafficking efforts, espe­cially in Mex­ico, said Kendra McSweeney, lead author of the Sci­ence arti­cle. “In response to the crack­down in Mex­ico, drug traf­fick­ers began mov­ing south into Cen­tral Amer­ica around 2007 to find new routes through remote areas to move their drugs from South Amer­ica and get them to the United States,” McSweeney said.

When drug traf­fick­ers moved in, they brought eco­log­i­cal dev­as­ta­tion with them
Kendra McSweeney, lead author, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of geog­ra­phy, The Ohio State University »

For exam­ple, the researchers found that the amount of new defor­esta­tion per year more than quadru­pled in Hon­duras between 2007 and 2011 — the same period when cocaine move­ments in the coun­try also spiked.

McSweeney is a geo­g­ra­pher who has done research in Hon­duras for more than 20 years, study­ing how indige­nous peo­ple inter­act with their envi­ron­ment. The drug trade is not some­thing she would nor­mally inves­ti­gate, but it has been impos­si­ble to ignore in recent years, she said. “Start­ing about 2007, we started see­ing rates of defor­esta­tion there that we had never seen before. When we asked the local peo­ple the rea­son, they would tell us: “los nar­cos” (drug traffickers).”

There were other indi­ca­tions of drug traf­fick­ing tak­ing place in the area. “I would get approached by peo­ple who wanted to change $20 bills in places where cash is very scarce and dol­lars are not the nor­mal cur­rency. When that starts hap­pen­ing, you know nar­cos are there,” she said.

When McSweeney talked to other researchers in Cen­tral Amer­ica, they had sim­i­lar sto­ries. “The emerg­ing impacts of narco-​trafficking were being men­tioned among peo­ple who worked in Cen­tral Amer­ica, but usu­ally just as a side con­ver­sa­tion. We heard the same kinds of things from agri­cul­tural spe­cial­ists, geo­g­ra­phers, con­ser­va­tion­ists. Sev­eral of us decided we needed to bring more atten­tion to this issue.”

In the Sci­ence arti­cle, McSweeney and her co-​authors say defor­esta­tion starts with the clan­des­tine roads and land­ing strips that traf­fick­ers cre­ate in the remote forests. The infu­sion of drug cash into these areas helps embolden res­i­dent ranch­ers, land spec­u­la­tors and tim­ber traf­fick­ers to expand their activ­i­ties, pri­mar­ily at the expense of the indige­nous peo­ple who are often key for­est defend­ers. In addi­tion, the drug traf­fick­ers them­selves con­vert for­est to agri­cul­ture as a way to laun­der their money. While much of this land con­ver­sion occurs within pro­tected areas and is there­fore ille­gal, drug traf­fick­ers often use their prof­its to influ­ence gov­ern­ment lead­ers to look the other way.

McSweeney said more research is needed to exam­ine the links between drug traf­fick­ing and con­ser­va­tion issues. But there is already enough evi­dence to show that U.S. drug pol­icy has a much wider effect than is often realised.

Drug poli­cies are also con­ser­va­tion poli­cies, whether we realise it or not. U.S.-led mil­i­ta­rized inter­dic­tion, for exam­ple, has suc­ceeded mainly in mov­ing traf­fick­ers around, dri­ving them to oper­ate in ever-​more remote, bio­di­verse ecosys­tems. Reform­ing drug poli­cies could alle­vi­ate some of the pres­sures on Cen­tral America’s dis­ap­pear­ing forests.
(Kendra McSweeney)

(Source: The Ohio State Uni­ver­sity news release, 30.01.2014)

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