Honduras Indigenous, Tribal Lands Hard-Hit by Drug Trade

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Recent reports have identified indigenous groups in Honduras as some of the most affected by the expansion of drug trafficking operations, illustrating the debilitating effects criminal migration and weak law enforcement have on one of the region’s most vulnerable populations.

Drug trafficking groups in Honduras are taking over tribal lands and clearing them to make clandestine landing strips for drug flights, cutting off indigenous access to areas used to obtain food and sustain a traditional lifestyle, reported Al Jazeera

Tribal leaders interviewed by Al Jazeera said there were at least 39 operational landing strips on their land, some of which received two to three flights a week. 

The presence of drug trafficking groups has also led to an increase in deforestation perpetrated by ranchers, palm oil growers and loggers in areas previously protected by local tribes, including wilderness reserves, the news report said.

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

It is a regional phenomenon. A study published in Science magazine in January found that drug trafficking had accelerated deforestation in parts of Central America, with deforestation “hot spots” corresponding to drug transit hubs in several areas including eastern Honduras. 

The Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in eastern Honduras — which is home to three different indigenous groups — has been especially hard-hit by drug trafficking.  In 2011, UNESCO placed the area on its World Heritage List in Danger due to logging, fishing, and land occupation by suspected traffickers operating in the area.    

InSight Crime Analysis

There are many reasons these areas are attractive to traffickers. First, they are remote. There are few roads to the Mosquito Coast, the area along the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua and Honduras covered in the Al Jazeera report. Most traffic moves via a series of rivers or along the coastline. The remoteness of the area has also contributed to the increase in drug flights coming from South America

Second, the indigenous groups have established their communities in rural areas, have little state presence and distrust authorities. For all of these reasons, the chances the groups will complain to the police or the military are small.   

Third, security crackdowns in Mexico have led to an increase in drug trafficking through Central America, with the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador especially impacted by organized crime and violence. 

Fourth, Honduras, as a whole, is very unstable, corrupt and has incredibly weak institutions. Political instability created by a 2009 military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya exacerbated the situation, further debilitating an already weak state presence.

Honduras is currently the most violent country in the world outside a war zone, with the United Nations reporting a 2012 homicide rate of 90.4 per 100,000, and has a significant presence of drug trafficking organizations. An estimated 140 to 300 tons of cocaine are believed to transit through the country each year. 

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