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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

7/7/2014 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Tribal Hondurans tricked into clearing forests for airfields

A village leader in La Mosquitia, a remote corner of northeastern Honduras, first thought that outsiders were offering food and cash for his community to clear rain forest for cattle ranching. But when the men returned, they cut down trees and blasted out roots to clear two clandestine strips for drug flights.

Tribal Hondurans have been used to create landing strips for cocaine traffickers in Honduras.

Tribal Hondurans have been used to create landing strips for cocaine traffickers in Honduras.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

7/7/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in Americas

Keywords: International, Central America


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "They used axes, chainsaws and earth compactors to flatten the land," said one of the four village elders, who spoke on a condition of anonymity. "Then they brought in sand to surface the strips, which were big enough for aircraft with one or two engines to land."

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Now, a dozen years later, there are almost 40 operational airstrips that have transformed traditional tribal lands into a global trade hub for the cocaine trade. Activity which has accelerated deforestation in an area of exceptional biodiversity and snared indigenous peoples in the drug war.

Honduras continues to struggle in fighting against the drug trade, especially among areas that are p

Honduras continues to struggle in fighting against the drug trade, especially among areas that are primary tribal.


The area is studded with clandestine airstrips now dotted with abandoned and burned-out aircraft. Part of the area contains the Rio Platano Biosphere reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dubbed the Amazon of Central America.

That biosphere is home to threatened or rare species, including giant anteaters, jaguars, ocelots, manatees and flocks of the increasingly scarce macaws.

Honduras continues to struggle in fighting against the drug trade, especially among areas that are p

Honduras continues to struggle in fighting against the drug trade, especially among areas that are primary tribal.


The region's largest wilderness area is also home to the Miskito, Pech and Tawahka peoples, who live by farming, fishing and hunting on ancestral lands flanking jungle rivers and coastal lagoons.

Dangers faced by indigenous groups were highlighted in June by letters to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, signed by more than 100 members of the House or Representatives, urging him to pressure the Honduran government to "protect the fundamental rights of its citizens," and "restore the rule of law."

Central America has been a major route for cocaine headed to the U.S. for decades. Trafficking operations erupted there after Mexico began to crack down on cartels in 2006.

Honduras continues to struggle in fighting against the drug trade, especially among areas that are p

Honduras continues to struggle in fighting against the drug trade, especially among areas that are primary tribal.


The ousting of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya three years after, broke an already weakened Honduran control in La Mosquitia and unleashed an influx of drug flights using scores of hastily cleared landing strips. Some of them receiving two to three flights per week.

"The whole area was practically abandoned. There was no military presence, and the people trafficking in the coastal area decided to make landing strips," another leader said. "The effect for us has been catastrophic."

The Honduran government has suggested an even darker picture. The Former Deputy Defense Minister, Carlos Funez, said in 2013 that the armed forces had identified some 200 clandestine landing strips in the north of the country and that government soldiers had destroyed about 70 of them.

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