Narco-deforestation blitzes Guatemalan rainforests

Narco-deforestation does exactly what it says on the tin, cutting down huge swathes of precious jungle to grow drugs, namely opium poppies and coca bushes. It’s been going on for a long time but a growing market for heroin in the USA is putting extra strain on the nation’s extraordinarily biodiverse forests, home to rare jaguars, tapirs, and the stunningly lovely scarlet macaw.

Deforestation in Guatemala is a growing problem that’s being made worse by drug traffickers, who are busy ripping up trees to create landing strips, farms and money laundering operations. And the USA’s infamous opioid epidemic is at the heart of the problem. According to the motherboard website (, the latest conservation, drug policy and healthcare stats reveal America’s chronic addiction to painkillers is playing a leading role in the destruction of the forests.

The US is addicted to opiates – Demand is driving deforestation

Opioid painkillers like OxyContin are the worst offenders, having increased the US’ demand for the almost chemically-identical heroin, which is cheaper than prescription painkillers. In response to the fast-growing demand drug cartels across Central and South America are slashing the forest down faster than ever. Locals  say that the drug trade in the area has got a lot worse in recent years, and that drug cartels are  responsible for the bulk of the deforestation.

Vast tracts of rainforest already lost

Guatemala can’t afford to lose any more of its already decimated rainforest. Images from the European Space Agency reveal that in the the 15 years between 1990 and 2005 they lost an enormous 17% of it, representing around half a million hectares of precious trees. Things have not slowed down since then – quite the opposite, in fact.

The past four years have seen a sharp increase in deforestation in Guatemala. Agriculture and logging have a role to play but drugs like cocaine and heroin are having a growing impact. This is borne out by the numbers in other countries – according to the Organization of American States, 2.5 million hectares of the Peruvian Amazon alone have been chopped down to grow coca, and a million hectares in Colombia have already been destroyed to grow opium poppies.

The solution?

The USA needs to do more to tackle its desperate painkiller addiction problem, already a piping hot political potato but something that’s going to be a lot easier said than done.


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