Honors College Thesis


“Narco-Deforestation” in Central American Protected Areas: Developing A Spatiotemporal Proxy Database for Drug-Trafficking Activities from Media Reporting Public Deposited

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  • On a global scale, illicit economies have dramatic impacts on the physical environment. Cocaine · • trafficking has been recognized as a major driver ofdeforestation inside Central American protected areas. A key problem in studying and managing the environmental impacts o f illicit economic activity is the difficulty in obtaining reliable data. To resolve this problem of data scarcity and establish a relationship between deforestation and the illicit drug trade, this thesis is a segment ofa larger plan to develop and collate a proxy database of media reporting across all Central American countries for years 2000-2018. The ultimate aim is to create a proxy indicator for the spatiotemporal intensity of cocaine trafficking that may be used to evaluate claims regarding landscape transformations. Media reports of events linked to illicit activity between 2000 and 2018 were acquired from Guatemala's Prensa Libre and other national news outlets. Databases were compiled for each country and then finalized and collated to develop hotspot density maps for measures of narcotrafficking intensity patterns over spatial and temporal scales, as well as summary charts ofevents over time. While we expected to find a causal relationship between the timing and location ofnarcotrafficking activity as reported and deforestation, initial preliminary analysis suggests that narco-activity as reported in the media ts no more correlated to deforestation than other proxies, including the Consolidated Counterdrug Database (CCDB; data provided by the federal government). This is significant because the CCDB was developed through collaboration of international counterdrug agencies at high expense and time commitment, while our media database was developed by an undergraduate research assistant over the course of 10 weeks with freely available information. Successfully building a proxy database that has similar explanatory power as the CCDB demonstrates that 2 open source data are valuable for research. In future work, this database may be used in conjunction with other proxies to make causal inferences about the role of cocaine in deforestation. Findings on the risks that illicit economies pose to forest environments have implications for conservation governance, protected areas management, and sustainable development, not only in Latin America, but also in other poor, developing countries vulnerable to illicit economies.
  • Key Words: narcotrafficking, Central America, drug trade, drug trafficking, deforestation
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  • Funded by National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates Program
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