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
Prev Next

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

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...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Former Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla -- a decorated war hero and a longtime US ally -- finds himself treading water amidst a flurry of accusations about corruption and his connections to drug traffickers. López Bonilla is not the most well-known suspect in the cases against...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...