During the reign of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexican cartels have improved relations with crews in Guatemala. In fact, the Sinaloa Cartel is the largest drug organization operating in the country. These partnerships have transformed Guatemala into a key point of transport for drugs from South America into the United States. To make the process easier, different groups have begun burning down significant portions of forests to make landing strips for cocaine-carrying airplanes. The problem is so out of control that Guatemalan officials have declared a state of emergency.
According to the South China Morning Post, the fires have consumed an area comparable to twice the size of Manhattan. The forests hit hardest are those along the nation’s northern border with Belize and Mexico, which sees much drug activity. The Morning Post reports:
The region, known as Petén, is known for the riches lying in its forests, including the Maya Biosphere Reserve and archaeological treasures such as the ancient city of Tikal, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
But those dense forests are also strategically placed hideouts for cartels trafficking cocaine from South America to the United States, officials say.
“There is a strong presence of drug traffickers, who, in their daily drive to claim new territory, don’t think twice of setting fire to the forest or paying poor people to do it,” said Alma Polanco, director in Petén of the National Council for Protected Areas.
Of the 12,000 hectares Guatemala has lost to forest fires since January, Petén accounts for more than three-quarters.
In addition to the razed forests serving as landing spots for small planes carrying cocaine, some crews use it grow opium and weed.
By declaring a state of emergency, Guatemalan officials are hoping to bring in reinforcements to help them with the forest fires. It is hoped that their plea will bring funds, fuel and food for Guatemala’s beleaguered firefighting forces. Mexico sent a helicopter to help with firefighting efforts on Sunday. On the bright side for them, the beneficial rain season, is beginning.