Honduras: Narco-Trafficking Threatens Plátano River Reserve
By Dialogo July 22, 2011
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – A world heritage site is in distress.
The reasons: indiscriminate deforestation; huge tracts of land burned to make way for agricultural activity; and, above all, the presence of narco-traffickers.
For the second time in 15 years, the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, which in 1982 was designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), has been listed as a site that’s in great risk of being harmed.
“We were visited by the UNESCO Mission and by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN), [which] along with the Honduran government, concluded the biosphere should be included on the list of endangered World Heritage Sites,” said José Antonio Galdámez, deputy minister of the Institute of Forest Conservation and Development (ICF).
The announcement was made on June 27 in Paris, at the closing of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting.
“The area has suffered a lot from the illegal cutting of trees and the burning [of land] for agricultural activities by drug traffickers,” said Julio López Roche, spokesperson for the Ministry of Security.
“[In the Biosphere Reserve], on top of the main basin of the Plátano River, there are other sub-basins from which spring the Paulaya and Patuca rivers that are used by traffickers to transport narcotics,” said Col. Marco Antonio Leiva Puerto, head of the Honduran C-9 Ecosystems and Environment Support Command of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A total of 5,515 kilograms (12,133 pounds) of cocaine was confiscated nationwide last year, according to the Ministry of Security. So far in 2011, 4,344 kilograms (9,556 pounds) have been seized.
“Most of the confiscations [in both years] occurred in the Plátano River area,” López said.
Leiva said his command conducts daily patrols along the land and waterways covering the more than 2,000 square miles that make up the reserve.
“We have stationed Forest Protection forces in the communities of Dulce Nombre de Culminí and La Colonia in the department of Olancho, and in Sico and Palacios in [the department of] Colón,” he said.
The Ministry of Security has also identified and destroyed several clandestine landing strips used by the narco-traffickers to land their planes in the sectors of Las Champas and Brus Laguna in the department of Gracias a Dios.
Security Minister Óscar Álvarez said between 2009 and 2010, 212 small aircraft landed in clandestine landing strips nationwide, with 80% of the planes touching down inside the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve.
The flat nature of the terrain in certain parts of the reserve allows the traffickers to create airstrips rather easily, Leiva said.
“[The government] has shown a strong [commitment] in its fight against drug trafficking in that region,” he said. “However, there isn’t at present a budget to buy the equipment needed [to fight the drug traffickers].”
The Ecosystems and Environment Support Command has deployed 293 troops, strategically grouped in 21divisions. It does not have a budget to conduct surveillance operations, but Álvarez has asked Congress to allocate the National Police more resources so they can increase patrols along the Plátano River.