Recent seizures of illegally trafficked timber in Guatemala suggests there is an organized smuggling ring sophisticated enough to transport the wood in large quantities, Prensa Libre reports.

According to the newspaper, Guatemalan authorities seized three shipping containers between November and December last year, each containing 58.28 cubic meters of Dalbergia species, commonly referred to as "rosul" wood. The shipments were set to depart from one of Guatemala's most important ports, Santo Tomas de Castilla. A further 3.5 cubic meters of the illegally logged wood was seized in national parks across the country.

The tree species, protected under the terms of an international environmetal trafficking treaty, is highly demanded in China, which fuels the smuggling trade.

The investigation into these recent seizures suggests that members of the police and government environmental agencies are involved in the trafficking ring, according to the Prensa Libre report.

InSight Crime Analysis

Illegal logging can take two forms: local people using the wood for subsistence, or organized groups running large smuggling operations. The size of these recent seizures in Guatemala point to the latter. The alleged involvement of police or government officials also suggests a more sophisticated operation. The trafficking of protected species often relies on the same smuggling routes used to transport drugs. And similarly to the drug trade, in order to move large cargoes of product, police and environmental officials need to be bribed to look the other way. 

Last year Guatemala announced a crackdown on eco-trafficking, stating they would enforce stricter security measures at airports. But the initiative left the country's sea ports off the list of priorities, arguably a serious omission. 

Eco-trafficking is a lucrative trade across the Americas. Last year Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that his government would wage a "crusade" against timber trafficking due to its links to organized crime. Similarly, Nicaragua recently created the world's first "eco-battalion," a military unit that will focus solely on protecting the country's natural resources.