The impacts of cocaine-trafficking on conservation governance in Central America

David J. Wrathall, Jennifer Devine, Bernardo Aguilar-González, Karina Benessaiah, Elizabeth Tellman, Steve Sesnie, Erik Nielsen, Nicholas Magliocca, Kendra McSweeney, Zoe Pearson, John Ponstingel, Andrea Rivera Sosa, Anayansi Dávila

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


This research is motivated by the compelling finding that the illicit cocaine trade is responsible for extensive patterns of deforestation in Central America. This pattern is most pronounced in the region's large protected areas. We wanted to know how cocaine trafficking affects conservation governance in Central America's protected areas, and whether deforestation is a result of impacts on governance. To answer this question, we interviewed conservation stakeholders from key institutions at various levels in three drug-trafficking hotspots: Peten, Guatemala, Northeastern Honduras, and the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. We found that, in order to establish and maintain drug transit operations, drug-trafficking organizations compete with and undermine conservation governance actors and institutions. Drug trafficking impacts conservation governance in three ways: 1) it undermines long standing conservation coalitions; 2) it fuels booms in extractive activities inside protected lands; and 3) it erodes the territorial control that conservation institutions exert, exploiting strict “fortress” conservation governance models. Participatory governance models that provide locals with strong expectations of land tenure and/or institutional support for local decision-making may offer resistance to the impacts on governance institutions that we documented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102098
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
StatePublished - Jul 2020


  • Conservation
  • Deforestation
  • Drug trafficking
  • Environmental governance
  • Protected areas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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