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News > Latin America

Why Are Drug Cartels Starting Forest Fires in Guatemala?

  • A view of part of the northern Guatemalan Peten jungle hit by raging forest fires, June 5, 2016.

    A view of part of the northern Guatemalan Peten jungle hit by raging forest fires, June 5, 2016. | Photo: EFE

Published 8 June 2016

Forest fires have decimated over 20,000 acres of the northern Guatemalan Peten jungle—a prime hangout for drug traffickers smuggling cocaine northward.

Drug cartels are likely largely responsible for raging forest forest fires ravaging northern Guatemala as kingpins literally blaze a trail for trafficking routes and covert landing strips in forests near the border with Mexico and Belize, AFP reported Tuesday.

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The Central American country declared an emergency on Saturday over forest fires in the northern department of Peten, home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the ancient city of Tikal, as well as clandestine cocaine trafficking routes, according to officials reported by AFP.

Peten is particularly hard hit by the forest fire crisis, where the majority of the 30,000 acres of Guatemalan jungles destroyed in blazes since the beginning of this year have been wiped out.

Peten jungle I Photo: Reuters

And although forest fires are a natural part of forest regeneration, drug traffickers’ practice of burning swathes of trees to make way for runways for small drug-cargo planes and covert crops of opium and marijuana is adding a dangerous human threat to the rich forest ecosystems.

Guatemala is increasingly becoming a key outpost for transnational drug cartels operating the cocaine route from South America to the United States, including the Sinaloa Cartel headed by notorious jailed Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

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And authorities and environmental conservationists are struggling to tackle the problem, which is spread out across a huge area and spearheaded by groups that are experts in clandestine illegal activities.

Officials fear that decimated jungles in Peten could now be up to more than 20,262 acres, the last official figure.

On Sunday, Mexico sent a fire fighting team to its neighboring country to help provide reinforcements in the face of the burning crisis.

Guatemalan authorities hope that the state of emergency will help bring in more international help.

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