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Luis BARRUETO is a journalist from Guatemala, currently working in trade policy at the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration (SIECA). Studied business and finance journalism at Aarhus University in Denmark and City University London.
A new report, cited in The Guardian, argues drug trafficking was reponsible for up to 30% of annual deforestation in Central America between 2000 and 2014: drug traffickers cut swaths of rainforest to facilitate their legal operations and set up "farms" ideal to launder their profits. (These cartels are mainly dealing in cocaine, but heroin is adding extra strain).
Decades of weak governance, insecure land tenure, and dire living conditions have helped nurture a strong nexus between drugs and other illegal activities in the region, such as illegal logging and palm oil land grabs. And this drug-driven forest loss is concentrated in areas of high conservation importance, such as ecological reserves and national parks, the researchers say.
Believe me, countries in the region are likely too weak to control this growing problem. In Guatemala, for example, the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) lacks the resources to effectively protect the national parks, with a budget of about one-tenth of a percent of the national budget (Foreign Policy). And the issue is hardly on top of the political agenda.
Indeed, as evidence keeps mounting to show the impact of drug trafficking on ecology, researchers point to the difficulty of addressing the problem without a change in global drug policy. “This is an important reminder that drug policy is conservation policy. Rethinking the war on drugs could yield important ecological benefits," geographer Kendra McSweeney and her team wrote in 2014 (Science, paywall but free with registration). Hopefully, someone will answer their wake-up call.