A seized granadillo shipment in Nicaragua

Demand from Chinese buyers has contributed to the growth of an illicit trafficking network that is moving record amounts of granadillo wood out of Nicaragua, according to a new report by investigative website Confidencial.

The Confidencial report finds that exports of granadillo have grown exponentially in Nicaragua since 2008. The wood is traditionally used to make musical instruments like marimbas, but is also in demand by furniture producers and makers of luxury items like Rolls Royces and yachts. 

(Watch a video of the Confidencial report below). 

In 2008 just over $127,000 of granadillo were exported from Nicaragua to six countries. In 2011, that number grew to $6 million worth of exports. The explosion in demand was driven by an influx of Chinese buyers, the Confidencial report states. Chinese buyers began to use Nicaragua as a primary source of granadillo after facing stricter controls on wood exports in other Central American countries like Panama, Nicaragua's second-largest wood exporter told Confidencial.

The inceased demand has fed the growth of a "wood mafia" that illegally harvests granadillo from forest reserves and moves it out of Nicaragua. In one sign of the burgeoning trade, in January 2012 the military seized a $1.35 million shipment of granadillo in a single operation. 

InSight Crime Analysis

As the Confidencial report highlights, wildlife trafficking can be a very lucrative business, depending on the product. Granadillo sells for $11 per board-foot (a unit of measurement for lumber). And with over 570,000 board-feet seized in Nicaragua seized so far in 2011, this represents some $6.2 million in profits. 

Nicaragua's wood trafficking "mafia" works similiarly to the drug trade, in the sense that both businesses are dependent on a network of transporters to move the product, and a network of complicit officials who turn a blind eye. Confidencial notes that while some truck drivers who move illicit granadillo shipments have been arrested, this hasn't brought authorities any closer to building a case against the real "kingpins" behind the trade. 

The illegal timber industry is a significant problem elsewhere in the region, including Colombia and Peru. Peru's illegal timber exports are thought to bring in up to $72 million in profits per year. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network. The BACRIM's roots lie in the demobilized paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...