On narco-trafficking resource politics and conservation governance in Central America

Authors: David Wrathall*, Oregon State University
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Resources
Keywords: resources, conservation governance, Central America,
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


This research is motivated by the observation that narco-trafficking is a major, recently recognized threat to forest conservation in Central America. Cattle ranching has emerged as a favorable strategy for laundering cocaine profits in the region, explaining up to 60% of deforestation in the protected areas constituting the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC) between 2000 and 2015.  Surprisingly, a given acre of forest is more likely to fit a pattern we associate with narco-money laundering if it is inside a protected area. Why? We posit that as drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) physically establish themselves in protected areas, they undermine existing conservation governance goals, structures, and actors, and transform local resource politics.  In this presentation we will examine how DTOs alter norms and rules that govern behavior in protected areas. We examine how DTOs alter resource constituencies: who has access to resources, who can participate in resource extraction, and who is excluded.  We examine how DTOs alter the expected benefits of payment for ecosystem services that conservation-aligned communities can claim. Ultimately, we find that models of conservation governance that have been implemented to do the work of conservation in Central America can do little to resist this reconfiguration of resource politics. The result is a new process of territorialization and resource control in protected areas.

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