Drug Traffic Is Trampling Central American Rain Forests
An Innovative Industry
With multi-trillion dollar global market for illicit narcotics, drug traffickers have a clear incentive to get their products down the supply chain to their customers, despite the legal and moral objections to their activities. As traffickers are increasingly put under pressure by authorities looking to shut down such enterprises, entrepreneurial drug smugglers are constantly inventing new, unusual and often outrageous means of crossing borders unchecked.
In what might be the most sophisticated means of transportation ever employed by drug traffickers, this submarine was used by smugglers based out of Timbiqui, Colombia, until the Colombian army seized the vessel earlier this year. Capable of transporting roughly 8 tons of cocaine in each trip, the submarine would leave from Colombia and drop off its contents in Mexico, which would then be broken up and transported in smaller quantities across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Modern technology may not be the only means of getting illegal drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border. More primitive tools may be enough to do the trick. Last month, the Mexican Army seized two catapults that were use to launch marijuana into Arizona from the Mexican city, Agua Prieta, according to a report from the Associated Press. Oddly enough, this seizure was actually the second time that authorities uncovered this method of smuggling. In January, two other catapults were discovered in Naco, a city that shares both sides of the border.
If drug smugglers can't get over the fence that stands between them and the southwestern United States, there no reason that they couldn't just tunnel under. Since the 1990s, more than 100 such tunnels have been discovered, many of which originate in Tijuana, Mexico, and lead into San Diego, Calif. Some tunnels are so sophisticated that they have lights and climate control, according to a report by CNN in 2009. The tunnels help smugglers not only bring drugs across the border, but also people, money and weapons.
Smuggling drugs in clams might make sense if taken on a fishing boat. A plane, however, is another story. On Sept. 8, 2011, 26-year-old David Pocasangre Vaquiz from El Salvador arrived in Washington-Dulles International Airport. In his luggage, Customs and Border Protection officials found more than 150 grams of cocaine concealed inside 15 clams, all of which had been glued shut to conceal their cargo.
Once You Pop...
A Pringles can may not seem like the most thoughtful means of hiding small quantities of narcotics. However, in 2006, police in Texas found a Pringles can containing what were essentially molded wafers of solid cocaine that were thinly sliced and shaped to resemble potato chips.
A Small Stash
Even the smallest object can be used to contain a hidden drug cache. In August 2011, authorities with the Federal Public Revenue Administration of Argentina found cocaine concealed in tiny screws carried by a Peruvian man flying from Buenos Aires to South Africa. In total, the smuggler had some 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of cocaine hidden among screws and other items on his person.
Credit: Getty Images
A Casket Case
Hiding narcotics in a coffin may seem like an especially grim means of smuggling illegal cargo. But this tactic has been used successfully by smugglers, most famously by trafficker Frank Lucas during the Vietnam War to ship heroine in the caskets of dead American soldiers. In fact, even tombstones have concealed hidden caches of marijuana and cocaine.
Credit: Drug Enforcement Agency
Not Appropriate for All Ages
Few would have expected to see Elmo on the other side of the law. But in 2006, agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration's Rocky Mountain Field Division seized more than 40 pounds of crystal methamphetamine. Traffickers used Elmo plush dolls, which were capable of holding around four pounds of meth each, to conceal their product.
Central America’s forests are becoming casualties in the drug war as narcotics traffic causes deforestation on several fronts, reports a recent paper in Science.
Drug traffickers clear trees to make landing strips for small planes loaded with cocaine from South America. The planes land in the remote forests of eastern Honduras and in the Peten region of Guatemala. Landing in sparsely policed areas of Central America allows the aircraft to avoid detection as they drop their cargo. The dope then travels by land or sea to the United States and other nations.
Pay offs to local ranchers, oil-palm growers, land speculators and illegal timber traffickers fund the expansion of ranches and farms, which gnaw away at surrounding forests.
In addition, indigenous groups and small-scale farmers often lose their land to the drug-funded loggers, ranchers and others who benefit from the black market. Local police receive bribes to look the other way, while forests that provide building materials and medicine to indigenous peoples, disappear. Threats of violence keep conservation groups out of the smuggling corridors.
Smugglers are also buying ranches and plantations to launder drug money. These expansive “narco-estates” also serve as fortresses to fend off rival drug-running syndicates.
Ecological devastation joins a long list of the burdens put upon poor countries by the United States’ emphasis on reducing the supply of drugs, wrote the Science paper’s authors. Focusing on reducing demand for drugs in the United States could prove to be a less environmentally damaging way to fight the drug war.
Illegal drug production damages ecosystems in the United States too. In the forests of California, unregulated, illegal marijuana growers divert scarce water to their clandestine ganja crops. And remote wilderness areas around the nation suffer pollution from methamphetamine labs set up by crank manufacturers fleeing police scrutiny.
Photo: Honduran soldiers guard 15 tons of seized cocaine, 300 kilometers north of Tegucigalpa in November, 2012. The drugs -- found in n underground vault operated as a laboratory -- were divided into 344 packs. STR/AFP/Getty Images