The Cocaine-Wildlife Connection: Conservation Crime in Central America

Authors: Sara Moya*, Texas State University
Topics: Political Geography, South America, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Crime convergence, Conservation crime, Illegal wildlife trade, Cocaine trafficking, Central America
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 26
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper analyzes the illegal wildlife trade in Central America and its connections to cocaine trafficking through a multi-sited study of Costa Rica and Guatemala. Specifically, I ask: What are the spatiotemporal and species patterns of wildlife trafficking from 2000-2014? And, what relationship, if any, exists between cocaine and wildlife trafficking in this region? My research draws on and contributes to three bodies of literature, wildlife trafficking in Latin America, drug trafficking in Central America, and crime convergence in the Americas. I utilized the US Fish and Wildlife Service's LEMIS database to describe the spatiotemporal patterns of wildlife trafficking flows. I used the Consolidated Counterdrug Database (CCDB) on cocaine seizures as a proxy for cocaine flows. Then I conducted a non-parametric Spearman's Rho statistical analysis of both datasets to find a positive correlation between seizures. I supplemented these data with qualitative data gathered from semi-structured interviews with protected area and biodiversity stakeholders to extrapolate the mechanisms of conservation crime and its connections to cocaine movements in Central America. My research reveals that crime convergence is increasing because of the growing power of organized crime and the subsequent proliferation of illicit markets, and that these geographies are indeed intersecting but in ways that are more indirect than initially anticipated. These four intersecting geographies of the cocaine-wildlife connection are: "Narco-Cultura", land-use change increases fauna vulnerability, territories of Impunity, and direct crime convergence.

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