The impacts of cocaine-trafficking on conservation governance in Central America


This research is motivated by the compelling finding that the illicit cocaine trade is responsible for extensive new patterns of deforestation in Central America. This pattern is most pronounced in largest protected areas constituting the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. This paper examines whether observed forest loss could be linked to a shift in conservation governance. We wanted to know how cocaine trafficking affects forest conservation governance in Central America's protected areas. To answer this question, we interviewed conservation stakeholders from key institutions at various levels in three drug-trafficking hotspots: Peten, Guatemala, Northeastern Honduras, and the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. We found that, in order to establish and maintain drug transit operations, drug-trafficking organizations directly and indirectly compete with and undermine conservation governance actors and institutions. Drug trafficking impacts conservation governance in three ways: 1) it fuels booms in extractive activities inside protected lands; 2) it undermines long standing conservation coalitions; and 3) it exploits differences in governance models and geography. Narco-related activities undermine traditional forest uses and resource governance, which produce significant social and ecological costs. Nevertheless, some types of conservation models appear more resistant than others. Particularly, participatory governance models can better maintain conservation goals compared to state-managed parks oriented toward strict conservation policies that exclude park residents and neighbors in land and resource management.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Jennifer Devine
Bernardo Aguilar-Gonzalez
Karina Benessaiah
Elizabeth Tellman
Steven Sesnie
Erik Nielsen
Kendra McSweeney
Zoe Pearson
John Ponstingel
Andrea Rivera Sosa
Liza Grandia
David Kaimowitz
Laura Sauls
Joe Bryan
Global Environmental Change

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