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

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

On the morning of April 5, 1988, Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros left his palatial Tegucigalpa estate for a jog. Matta Ballesteros was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and other crimes in several countries, but in Honduras he felt safe. He regularly hosted parties for high-level officials at...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

As it tends to happen in Honduras, the news began as a well-heeled rumor: Javier Rivera Maradiaga, the oldest of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers still alive and leader of the feared and powerful Honduran drug trafficking group known as the Cachiros, had handed himself in to...

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Organized crime is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Oak Park, a leafy suburb of Chicago with a population of about 60,000. In general, it was a very low crime city, which is perhaps why many mobsters made their homes there, among them...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country and its largest economy. But an intransigent elite, an ambitious military and a weak state has opened the way for organized crime to flourish, especially since the return of democracy.

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

In the northwest corner of Guatemala, a little known criminal organization known as the "Huistas" dominates the underworld, in large part due its ties with businessmen, law enforcement officials and politicians.

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

This project defines organized crime as: a structured group of people that associate on a regular and prolonged basis to benefit from illicit activities and illegal markets. This group can be local, national or transnational in nature, and its existence is maintained using violence and threats; corruption...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Like any arm of the justice system, the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had its battles with elites who used their charm and their muscle to try to influence what and who the celebrated commission...