Fight against illegal loggers on the border between Guatemala and Mexico


Two days later we join a new ATV convoy with a group of park rangers stationed in the Balamkú Nature Reserve. Covering over 400,000 hectares, the reserve borders both Calakmul and Río Azul-Mirador in Guatemala. In the five days since we left Flores, park rangers on both sides of the border have repeatedly warned us that Balamkú is an epicenter for illegal logging.

A light rain splashes on the muddy path. The park rangers – this time a squad of nearly a dozen elderly men in camouflage clothing – search the forest for clues.

At the helm is Ángel, an experienced parking attendant with a walkie-talkie, GPS tracker, sun hat and black sunglasses. Not long after he left the base, Angel brakes abruptly, parks his ATV, and cocks his head toward the thick foliage. At first we don’t see anything, but upon closer inspection one discovers a clump of trees covering the entrance to a bruh.

Seconds later the rest of the convoy catches up and we follow the path to the logging site. The trail leads to a fork in the trail that branches off into two more trials, then another, and so on for several kilometers.

Along the way we see different types of felled wood before finally reaching the remains of two Granadillo trees. In other words, the loggers bulldozed this entire stretch of forest to extract just two trees.

“That’s selective logging,” says Ángel, pulling out his GPS tracker to pinpoint the location.

A map, featured in the same independent assessment by environmental groups, shows how to do this vomit have spliced ​​through hundreds of miles of forest on the reserve. The map is also dotted with red dots indicating illegal operations.

After less than three hours of patrol we saw at least twenty paths destroyed by the loggers. They exploited the Balamkú Reservation to the point of exhaustion, which is one of the reasons these groups began turning their eyes to Guatemala and the reservations Genesis patrolled.

a decade ago Angel recalls, the loggers began exploiting the cedar. Then came mahogany. Then “ciricote‘, a small tree formerly used to make furniture that grows in southern Mexico and Central America. Four years ago, in late 2017 and early 2018, Granadillo came along. And now, with granadillo reserves dwindling in some areas, loggers are looking for new species of wood—including a species known as “nava,” which resembles granadillo in both durability and aesthetics.

“Right now, Nava has a pretty high price tag,” he says.

The night before the patrol we speak to one of the group’s most experienced rangers, Hernán, who takes us to a camp of confiscated timber totaling over forty logs, mostly Granadillo and Nava. The confiscations stemmed from several anti-logger operations, and while the crowd is impressive, Hernán says they failed to catch any of the culprits.

He tells us that the poor results are not only due to budget constraints, but also possible information leaks from the authorities who accompany the rangers’ patrols. Hernán is not alone in this view. Although no state actors have been prosecuted for involvement in illegal logging in Campeche, some government agencies may engage in the illegal trade through negligence and omission, according to the private environmental assessment, which cited interviews with government officials and environmental organizations on both sides of the border.

Hernán initially began to suspect the authorities who accompanied the park rangers during patrols because the information they gathered on joint patrols rarely led to timber confiscations or arrests.

One of the rare instances when the park’s rangers seized a significant amount of timber was in August 2021 when they seized 157 logs in the municipality of Candelaria, west of the Balamkú Reserve. But the night after the operation, loggers snuck into the base and ran off with 14 of the logs.

“You made a way [to enter the base] over there,” says Hernán, pointing to the fence. “We didn’t have a night watchman anymore, so they went in and took her away.”

Balamkú’s proximity to Candelaria contributes to his headaches. The community serves as a base of operations for the logging mafia, according to park rangers on both sides of the border. The area is home to several smaller communities that house illegally harvested timber storage centers and feed the mafia’s workforce — tree markers, lumberjacks, drivers and carpenters — according to GPS data and the private report shared with InSight Crime.

Candelaria is one of the main departure points for modified trucks entering the Balamkú Reserve to collect felled timber. They often travel at night, accompanied by sentries on motorcycles. The lumberjacks store the wood they collect in hidden pits. And when there is enough to fill a shipping container, preparations for export begin.

wood washer graphic

This is where “wood washing” comes into play; The Mafia obscures the properties of the Granadillo tree and secures export papers naming another commercial timber.

The move requires the voluntary or non-voluntary involvement of government officials or the communities that collectively own the forests, many of them in Candelaria, according to the same independent assessment by environmental groups.

As landowners, community members in Candelaria and elsewhere sometimes give their names to requests for permits to harvest commercial timber, and the permits are later used to “wash” timber at sawmills, according to the independent review.

The logging mafia’s growing payroll has helped encourage this type of business in communities where farming is one of the only forms of income, park wardens say. It has also made places like Candelaria impenetrable to authorities, preventing major operations.

Faced with infrequent confiscations and a tepid response from authorities, park rangers in Balamkú can do little but watch precious timber pour from their reserves.


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