While Central America’s forests are beginning to look like the aftermath of a military scorched earth policy, the military isn’t behind the forest destruction. The war on drugs has a new frontier. A new trend called narco-deforestation is destroying Central America’s forests.
Making Way for Drug Trafficking
Drug traffickers are illegally degrading Central America’s forests by building their own roads and aviation landing strips. These new routes of transportation make it easier to transport drugs from Mexico to South America, and vice-versa.
As reported in The Guardian, Kendra McSweeney, the co-author of “Drug Policy as Conservation Policy: Narco-Deforestation” explains, ”These protected ecological zones have become the hub for South American cocaine.”
In Honduras, even a Unesco world heritage site — Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve — was destroyed. While narco-deforestation is a major factor in the deforestation, illegal logging practices preceded the new narco trend and continues to play a large role in the destruction of Central America’s biodiversity. According to Cultural Survival, the logging industry makes up “20 percent of the total volume removed from tropical forests, but only a third is exported.” And this logging activity is documented and legal, so you can imagine that this percentage is higher when illegal logging activities come into the picture.
The Cockroach Effect
While Mexico serves as a type of nucleus for drug activity, authorities have started cracking down on the illegal activities. These new challenges and crackdowns have pushed the activity down south and resulted in the efecto cucaracha, or the cockroach effect. Similar to a cockroach’s “survival instincts,” if it’s driven away from one home, it will find another — and that just happens to be Central America. Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras have been particularly targeted by the cockroach effect.
It’s not a coincidence. For example, as reported in The Guardian, when former Mexican president Felipe Calderón took a more proactive approach to cracking down on drugs in Mexico, Guatemala’s deforestation increased between 5 and 10 percent.
The Costs of Deforestation
What are we losing when the forest is destroyed? Cultural Survival lists some of the costs of deforestation:
– Genetic diversity
– Habitat (human and animal)
More Ways Narco-Deforestation Destroys Forests
If you didn’t think it could get worse, then think again. Drug traffickers are taking their illegal profits and investing in cattle ranches and palm oil plants. These are two industries that work to destroy Central America’s forests more.
According to Cultural Survival, deforestation for pasture “‘is probably the single largest cause of deforestation in Latin America and to a large degree in Africa.’” Cattle ranching single-handedly accounts for 38 percent of forest loss and degradation in Latin America. And Care2 members, you are aware about how bad palm oil (and palm oil waste for that matter) are bad news for the planet, the animals and the people.
How is This Happening?
As reported in The Guardian, it boils down to “corruption among local government officials and weak public institutions for enabling this to happen.” There also aren’t enough forest guards (with the right equipment and know-how) to stop this from happening.
Another victim of narco-deforestation are the indigenous communities living in the forests. As reported in The Guardian, another co-author of the report, Matthew Taylor, explains, “The Indians are either chased off their land, or recruited by the drug traffickers – voluntarily or by force – to fell the trees or work on their farms.” Without indigenous communities’ commitment to protecting the forests and wisdom of the forests, conservation efforts in the region will be greatly compromised.
Photo Credit: Leonora Enking