In recent months, experts have warned about the close relationship between drug trafficking and the illegal timber trade in South America — a reality that is becoming increasingly visible in Argentina. Among the three large drug seizures the Argentine National Gendarmerie made in February 2022, two consisted of marijuana hidden in timber shipments.
On February 17, gendarmes on patrol in the vicinity of Puerto Avellaneda, Misiones province, detected a suspicious truck moving in the area. Upon noticing the presence of uniformed personnel, the driver jumped out of the vehicle, which kept moving and crashed on a hill a few meters away.
“Officials saw at first glance a large number of wooden boards, which emitted a strong odor typical of marijuana,” the Gendarmerie said in a statement. In total, authorities seized 1,507 packages containing 1,002 kilograms of cannabis sativa hidden in the timber shipment.
On February 1, gendarmes intercepted a truck carrying more than 3 tons of marijuana hidden among wooden beams. The truck was moving along Provincial Road 17, near the town of Nueve de Julio, in Buenos Aires province. Members of the Eldorado Squadron 10 intercepted the vehicle with the support of the Investigations Unit for Complex Crimes and Judicial Procedures.
“Officials saw at first glance a large shipment of wood, but the anti-narcotics sniffer dog ‘Vera’ confirmed the presence of narcotics,” the Gendarmerie said. When searching the truck, authorities found 3,348 kg of marijuana in rectangular packages under the wood.
Narcotrafficking and the environment
The seizures in Argentina showcase a trend already seen in the Amazon, where traffickers use illegal timber to smuggle cocaine and marijuana. “[There is a] growing overlap between the routes used by drug trafficking groups and those involved in environmental crimes,” InSight Crime, an organization specializing in organized crime in Latin America, said in a late 2021 report.
“Environmental crime could be serving as a new means of income for drug traffickers, with evidence pointing to cargo shipments coming from the rainforest being used to conceal the smuggling of drugs to foreign markets,” InSight Crime said.
While gendarmes were seizing drugs hidden in timber shipments in Argentina, security experts gathered in Brazil, February 7-11, for a course on timber inspection, offered by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The event was held at the Center for Integration and Improvement in Environmental Policing, a Brazilian Federal Police (PF, in Portuguese) base in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Thirty federal police officers and representatives from Colombia, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, and the United States, attended the event.
“The objective of the training was to strengthen a network of police and customs agents from tropical timber importing and exporting countries to improve environmental governance,” the UNODC said.
According to Interpol, organized crime groups earn up to $150 billion a year from illegal logging, the UNODC said. “Forest crimes are also closely related to drug and arms trafficking and human rights violations,” the UNODC concluded.