The Cocaine-Wildlife Connection: Conservation Crime in Central America
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This thesis analyzes the illegal wildlife trade in Central America and its connections to cocaine trafficking in protected areas by conducting a comparative study of Costa Rica and Guatemala. Recent scholarship on conservation crime suggests that illicit markets and trade networks intersect in Central American biodiversity hotspots, however, the links between illicit activities and global environmental change are poorly understood. To better understand this intertwined threat to biodiversity and security, this research asks: What are the spatiotemporal and species patterns of wildlife and cocaine trafficking in Costa Rica and Guatemala from 2000-2014? And, what relationship, if any, exists between wildlife and cocaine trafficking in the region? To answer these questions, I employ a mixed methodology comprised of qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews and statistical analyses of cocaine seizures and wildlife flows to examine the relationship between these illicit commodity networks.
The result of the non-parametric statistical analysis demonstrates a positive, statistically significant correlation between cocaine seizures and wildlife flows from Guatemala and Costa Rica to the United States. Interview analysis provides four further empirical insights into the ways in which these illicit commodity chains intersect: 1) narco-traffickers increase demand for trafficked wildlife; 2) drug trafficking results in land use change that makes wildlife more vulnerable to trafficking; 3) drug trafficking creates “territories of impunity” where many illicit activities thrive; and 4) trafficking networks directly overlap. My research concludes that drug trafficking organizations are principal actors driving wildlife trafficking and environmental degradation in protected areas of Central America.