“Narco-Degradation” in Central America’s Protected Areas

Authors: Jennifer Devine*, Texas State University - San Marcos, David Wrathall, Assistant Professor, Oregon State University
Topics: Latin America, Global Change, Environment
Keywords: cocaine, drug trafficking, degradation, protected areas, conservation, Central America
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Jackson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Recent research reveals that drug cartels are deforesting the region’s remaining forests and protected areas in order to launder money and traffic drugs through cattle ranching (Devine et. al n.d., McSweeney and Pearson 2014, McSweeney et. al 2017). This scholarship is incipient and incomplete; regional experts have just begun to understand land-use patterns and processes of “narco-cattle ranching” and “narco-deforestation” and their impacts on the region’s socio-economic systems (Sesnie et. al 2017). Government officials and policy makers are calling for more rigorous evidence to craft more effective drug and conservation policies to address this pressing problem (UNODC 2014). This paper contributes to academic and policy debates regarding drug-trafficking’s environmental impacts through a relational comparison (Hart 2016) of three protected areas in Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica. We use a participatory mapping method that solicits spatial and temporal data regarding narco-driven land use change. Over 50 interviews with conservation managers, park rangers, and policy makers produced evidence that illustrates that deforestation is just one of narco-trafficking’s negative environmental impacts. “Narco-degradation” also takes the form of mangrove degradation, timber poaching, flora and fauna trafficking, gold mining, and road building, to name a few. Our research also suggests that different types of narco-degradation, as well as their spatial and temporal differences, reveal patterns of node emergence and development in Central America’s cocaine smuggling routes.

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