Four protected areas in the Upper Paraná Atlantic Forest (BAAPA, in Spanish), in eastern Paraguay, are threatened by narcotrafficking, marijuana crops, and logging, the environmental journalism platform Mongabay Latam said in its October 14 report Illegal Marijuana Crops Destroy Atlantic Forest.
The BAAPA is an ecoregion shared by Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay and is one of the most biologically significant places on earth, as it hosts extremely diverse flora and fauna. Paraguay preserves only 13 percent of its area, the conservation organization World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said on its website. In 1994, the forest coverage in this region was 4.3 million hectares, while now it is only 2.7 million hectares, the website added.
On June 2, Paraguayan Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development Ariel Oviedo told the press that “one of the BAAPA’s main problems […] is illegal marijuana crops, a situation present in almost all of the country’s national parks.” The WWF reports that at least 2,350 hectares are currently used to grow marijuana in the BAAPA’s reserves.
The Caazapá, Mbaracayú, Morombí, and San Rafael protected areas, located in the middle of the Atlantic Forest, have been invaded by illicit cannabis plantations and illegal logging, Mongabay Latam reported. In addition, forest watchers have been threatened, gone missing, or been killed, and the indigenous communities that live in the area in extreme poverty are forced to coexist with narcotrafficking and illegal campsites.
Augusto Salas, a deputy environmental prosecutor for Paraguay’s Office of the Attorney General, told Mongabay Latam that it is necessary to deploy military detachments in these protected areas to stop the destruction. “We have talked with Senate representatives, as well as other authorities. I don’t see another way out.”
Meanwhile, Paraguayan authorities are not lowering their guard. Agents of the Paraguayan National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD, in Spanish) seized 3,580 kilograms of marijuana in the forests of Alto Paraná, Amambay, and Canindeyú and destroyed 23 hectares of crops that would have yielded 69 tons of marijuana, the Paraguayan newspaper Hoy reported on October 22.
During another operation, SENAD seized 4,800 kg of cannabis that was drying in Alto Paraná and eradicated 1.5 hectares of marijuana crops, which would have resulted in 4.5 tons of drugs harvested, Hoy reported on September 29.
“Cannabis shipments to Bolivia and mainly to Brazil emerge from the eastern region’s north, while traffickers from Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay source from plantations in the country’s south, where they use the Paraná River as an escape route and to circulate,” SENAD indicated on its website on May 27.
To expand their marijuana crops, criminal groups participated in forest fires that spread in early October in Paraguay, a recurring practice of marijuana growers, Insight Crime said on October 26.
The Atlantic Forest, however, is not a lost cause. “Thanks to the coordination and support of conservation organizations, the private sector, and governments, we are preventing the forest from disappearing, protecting more areas than ever, restoring ecosystems, and reconnecting fragmented patches of native forests,” the WWF concluded on its website.