Drug trafficking's impacts on conservation governance in Central America's protected areas

Authors: John Ponstingel*, Texas State University, Jennifer Devine, Texas State University, David Wrathall, Oregon State University, Karina Benessaiah, McGill University
Topics: Political Geography, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: drug trafficking, Institutions, conservation, governance, community-based resource management
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Jackson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In order to better understand the complex-power relationships that drug trafficking organizations create and fuel in Central American protected areas, we draw on the concept of polycentric governance via Ostrom (2009). Polycentric governance is a way to describe and analyze the nested institutions comprising governance networks involved in resource-based management in our protected areas of study: Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve, the Honduran Mosquitia, and Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Investigating the rules, norms, behaviors and efficacy of such institutions reveals how and why drug trafficking organizations are able to embed themselves within conservation governance structures via coercion and violence. We argue that DTOs undermine conservation governance in many protected areas by competing with state actors, local communities and conservation organizations to define territories, resource governance rules and sanctions, and practices of commodification and service provision. We find that communally-managed lands that display Ostrom's design principles of polycentric governance are more resilient to narco-trafficking, but they are still substantially affected by how drug trafficking organizations change rules and conditions under which formal institutions of conservation governance operate. Our work in Guatemala and Honduras suggests that polycentric governance arrangements that emphasize common pool resource management and community land management are more resilient to land grabbing by narco-traffickers than national parks managed by exclusively by the state.

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