Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Deforestation of Central America rises as Mexico's war on drugs moves south

Frederic Saliba in the Guardian (UK): According to Kendra McSweeney: "Drug trafficking is causing an ecological disaster in Central America." McSweeney, a geographer at Ohio State University, is the co-author of a recent report on the little-known phenomenon of "narco-deforestation" that is destroying huge tracts of rainforest that are already under threat from other quarters.

Viewed from the air, the tropical forests of Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua are scarred with landing strips and roads built illegally by the narco-traffickers for transporting drugs to the US, the leading world market. "These protected ecological zones have become the hub for South American cocaine," according to McSweeney, who stresses that the annual deforestation rate in Honduras more than quadrupled between 2007 and 2011, a boom-period for drug trafficking. In 2011 alone, 183 sq km of forest was destroyed in the east of the country, including in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, an endangered Unesco world heritage site. This was in addition to the pre-existing problem of forest destruction due to illegal logging.

The wave of devastation has been moving south down the American continent, as drug crackdowns have taken force in Mexico. This is known as the efecto cucaracha, or cockroach effect, with reference to the survival instinct this creature has of seeking refuge next door as soon as it has been of chased out of one house. In the Laguna del Tigre national park in north-east Guatemala, deforestation has increased by between 5% and 10% in the past seven years. That coincides with the war against drug trafficking launched at the end of 2006 by the former Mexican president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), with backing from the US.

Take the powerful Sinaloa cartel. When it was headed by Joaquin Guzmán, alias El Chapo, before his arrest on 22 February, the Mexican mafia extended its influence in Central America via local gangs. For McSweeney: "Narco-deforestation enables cartels to occupy territory to the detriment of their competitors. If that continues, the entire Mesoamerican [Central American] biological corridor, which stretches from Panama to Mexico, will be affected by tree felling."...

Burned jungle in Mexico, shot by Jami Dwyer, public domain

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