Narco-cattle ranchers in the Petén

The following is a brief summary of an article published in September 2008 in NotiCen which offers news and analysis of international political matters as they manifest themselves in Central America and the Caribbean.

A tourism project of astounding proportions is rising up out of the ashes of the grandiose but defunct Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), replaced by Plan Mesoamerica – see Chapter 7. The tourism project was proposed for the Petén, Guatemala’s largest and most remote department. President Alvaro Colóm proposed an archeological park extending some 22,500 sq km across this, Central America’s largest, forested wilderness. The park would include both El Mirador, a giant ruins considered the cradle of the Mayan civilisation, and Tikal, the gem of the Mayan classic period.

Some of this vast area has been raped, turned into cattle ranches, denuded of the forests that could not be seen for the trees whose value as illegally felled timber has spelled their doom. It also necessitates the eviction of subsistence campesino families and would include a large area of the Petén which is lawless and in which forest is clear-felled with impunity for cattle grazing. Additionally, the area is used as a major trans-shipment route by drug smugglers. The Guatemalan NGO Trópico Verde refers to those responsible for the illegal felling as ‘narco-cattle ranchers’.

Carlos Albacete, Co-Director of Trópico Verde, said that the organisation first denounced the situation in 2006 and has documentation showing that, in at least five cases, lands within the Laguna del Tigre park were illegally deeded to persons linked to narco-trafficking. In the Mirador area of the central zone of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve, the group has documentary evidence of state lands taken over by drug traffickers that were subsequently robbed of their timber and turned to grazing. After Trópico Verde made its charges, authorities nullified the titles, but they did not act against the drug traffickers. “They don’t mention that, to get the deeds issued, they had to bribe lawyers and officials, or that in Laguna del Tigre so far 40 small planes used to transport cocaine from Colombia to Guatemala have been found,” added Albacete.

The full article on which this summary is based is accessible on the ENCA website