The 74 natural protected areas of Honduras lose thousands of hectares each year to the illegal seizure of land, clearing of forests, human settlements, cattle ranching, and the construction of landing strips for drug planes that stop over on their way to Mexico and the United States.
The Río Plátano Biosphere, located in the Honduran Mosquitia region, near the Atlantic border with Nicaragua, is until now considered the epicenter of drug trafficking operations, with more than 200 clandestine tracks discovered between 2012 and 2021, according to records from the Honduran authorities.
Drug activity is also attributed to the construction of an illegal highway 100 kilometers inland in the forest reserve, declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1982.
The reserve was consigned for the sustainable use of native communities, made up mostly of the Miskito ethnic group.
The Institute for Forest Conservation, Protected Areas and Wild Life (ICF), the Honduran government body in charge of protecting national parks, has registered the decrease of 87,746 hectares of forest until last year due to illegal activities.
The Honduran ecologist Jorge Salaverri, who runs an ecotourism project from the Mosquitia, has become an activist who denounces the destruction of natural resources.
Salaverri points out that every day the ranchers are invading more and more land in the plain, cutting down the forest to plant pastures without the State stopping the activities.
“The ranchers have humiliated the Pech and Miskito indigenous people. We are losing our heritage site of which we are all proud, but the corresponding authority is not protecting it ”, denounces Salaverri on his social networks.
The ecologist indicates that large areas of the Río Plátano Biosphere, with idyllic landscapes of humid forests and rich biodiversity with lowlands and rivers, are losing their forests due to irregular settlements.
The main inputs of deforestation and land seizures are recorded in areas close to illegal roads.
“They are entering the Guapote River towards the Mairintigni and Wahawala Valley, and the plan is to deforest all those forests to reach the Putaka,” adds Salaverri.
Facade cattle for the narcos
An investigation of the organization InSight Crime, in Washington, indicates that the cattle activity is linked to drug trafficking operations.
The report, titled “Terror in the Honduran jungle where drug traffickers fatten cattle,” reveals that these groups take over state land to cut down and introduce cattle, clear the way for human settlements that in turn install infrastructure and clear the way for drug trafficking operations.
Illegal activity is easily camouflaged among the activities of residents and ranchers who have taken over the area, the report indicates, and considers that with this strategy they hinder the already “little action” of law enforcement to focus on a single target, such as the planes or the shipments, because they have to deal with a whole network of illegalities.
Livestock activity is used to traffic livestock between countries, launder illicit drug money and bank the funds as part of the informal livestock activity, which could have up to 60,000 cattle within that forest reserve alone, according to the investigation.
Destruction of narcopists does not decrease activity
In 2022, the Honduran government, headed by Xiomara Castro, reported the destruction of dozens of clandestine tracks both in national parks and in other sparsely populated regions of the country.
The government has said that the division of the Armed Forces created in 2014 as a “land shield”, with the reinforcement of the National Police, has destroyed the tracks with explosives, creating craters up to “14 meters wide by seven meters deep” to render the cladestine narcopists inoperative.
However, a follow-up of data from the Ministry of Defense of the narcotics traffickers destroyed since 2012 in the Río Plátano Biosphere, carried out by the Honduran newspaper The Herald indicates that Despite these government actions, the volume of operations has continued to increase.
According to records, the vast majority of airstrips have been built, destroyed, and some rehabilitated in already populated areas that the forest service considers a “cultural zone” and others in the buffer zone, which is before entering the thick jungle.
The felling of no less than 417 trees is estimated for the construction of each track, which measure an average of 1,000 meters long by 15 meters wide. For the 205 tracks destroyed, an estimated 85,485 felled trees.
According to experts on the subject, Honduras does not have sufficient resources to ensure effective protection of protected natural reserves, thereby facilitating drug activity in a region geographically located at a strategic point in Central America for the entry of drugs by land, sea and air.
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