Deforestation By Drugs

The ‘war on drugs’ is driving deforestation in Central America.

Military efforts to eliminate cocaine production have instead pushed traffickers into remote forests, where the underground economy they build devastates the environment. Large tropical forests in Guatemala and Honduras have especially been affected. Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica have also been impacted.

The US government turning the war on drugs into a military operation rather than a humanitarian one has exacerbated the environmental destruction. “Military approaches to solve the problem of drug trafficking have pushed traffickers who want to evade drug seizures into remote, isolated areas which are often protected areas, and forests in particular,” said American geographer Jennifer Devine.

Drug traffickers clear forests for air strips to land cocaine-laden planes from the Andes. They also use deforested lands to launder drug money through illegal cattle ranching and palm oil production.

“Drug trafficking and interdiction policy is contributing to climate change,” said Devine. “The solution is to rethink approaches to the war on drugs.” Such a rethink is unlikely to be forthcoming from governments who care less about Nature than they do about trying to stomp out drug trafficking.


Jocelyn Timperley, “‘War on drugs’ is driving deforestation,” BBC Science Focus (21 November 2019).

Nicholas R. Magliocca et al, “Modeling cocaine traffickers and counterdrug interdiction forces as a complex adaptive system,” PNAS (16 April 2019).