Patterns and environmental impacts of drug trafficking in Guatemala
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Narco-trafficking and the illicit industry’s associated money laundering operations are becoming clearer contributors of land use change and land degradation in Guatemala. In the past, public officials and opinion often blamed small-scale, Indigenous and non -Indigenous farming communities for large scale land use change, but this research project demonstrates that the large numbers of cattle ranches and palm plantations driving deforestation are funded by narco-capital. The analysis draws on two separate databases: the first is a collection of Prensa Libre newspaper articles detailing cocaine seizures and interdiction efforts, and the second is called the narco-degradation database, which was compiled from 20 different interviews with community leaders which were conducted in 2017 and were transcribed and coded in 2018.
The first database provides a clear picture of interdiction seizures for three transportation methods, air, maritime, and land. The second provides context as well as a link to the money laundering activities of the drug trafficking organizations. Mapping the drug smuggling data reveals that drug traffickers rely more heavily on maritime and air travel, while analysis of the narco-degradation data demonstrates that drug trafficking organizations are laundering money in mass in palm oil plantations and cattle ranching. These agro-industrial land uses have severe implications for their surrounding environment. Further complicating the issue is the drug traffickers' exploitation of protected areas of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, use of land grabbing tactics that dispossess Indigenous and non-Indigenous peasants, and large-scale impunity for these crimes.