As Mexico’s powerful drug cartels diversify operations beyond the illegal drug trade, the organised crime syndicates have found another lucrative line of work: The large scale theft of Mexico’s natural resources.The Washington Post reports today that illegal loggers, guarded by gunmen with automatic weapons have strong-armed their way into the ancient forests in Mexico’s western mountains.
In Cheran, a timber-rich village in Mexico’s Michaocan state, locals told the WaPo that the criminals have cut down thousands of acres of old-growth forests, shooting villagers who oppose them and kidnapping men from indigenous communities.
While illegal logging has long been a problem in Mexico, security experts say the trade now appears to be controlled by the cartels, who either coordinate the logging or provide security and then take a cut.
Mexican officials have acknowledged that organised crime is likely responsible for many timber thefts in Michoacan, but they have made only two minor arrests.
As we have previously noted, pressure from gang turf wars and the government crackdown on the cartels has pushed Mexico’s organised crime networks to seek alternate sources of revenue. PEMEX, Mexico’s state-run oil company, says the cartels stole 2.16 million barrels of fuel in 2010 alone. The gangs have also significantly expanded their operations into kidnapping, human trafficking, and music and software piracy.
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