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Guatemalan authorities destroy secret airstrip in Laguna del Tigre National Park

  • Clandestine landing strips are often built in forest reserves by cattle ranchers who are actually working for drug traffickers.
  • After Mongabay-Latam and Plaza Pública reported on the runway’s existence, the Guatemalan Army was ordered to destroy it.
  • It is unclear if the strip was abandoned or under construction, but such structures pose a threat to the health of Laguna del Tigre National Park

(This is a collaborative article by Mongabay Latam and Plaza Pública, a Guatemalan investigative news outlet)

The spokesperson for the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Julia Barrera, told Plaza Pública and Mongabay Latam on Monday (15th of May) that a secret runway had been found in the area and that the prosecutor was inspecting it. The investigation found that the strip – 8 meters wide by 250 meters long – wasn’t active. The weeds, trees and potholes would have prevented any aircraft from landing there.  According to a source from the prosecutor for drug-related crimes’ office, “the strip could had been used before and could have been reactivated. For this reason, it was destroyed.”

Following judicial authorisation, the strip was destroyed using pickaxes and mattocks (similar to a pickaxe) and not using explosives, as is normally the case. The Selva Beos military brigade dug a ditch about a meter deep and six meters wide, according to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, in order to render the strip useless.

Under a judge’s order, the Army destroys a secret runway located next to one of Perenco’s oil wells. Photo courtesy of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Guatemala.

But the job is not yet done. “We’ll need to coordinate with local authorities to see if they had any knowledge of the runway, and carry out an investigation to see who could have used the runway (legally or illegally),” explained the prosecutor for the drug-related crimes’ office.

As far as the spokesperson for the Army – William García – is concerned, the strip was never used as a runway. “It’s too short to be a landing strip. Not even MacGyver could have landed a plane there. We’ve found 65 secret runways in total and this is not one of them. Perhaps they wanted to begin construction on a runway, but never finished it,” surmised García, adding that the Special Brigade for Jungle Operations would keep an eye on the strip so that it “doesn’t grow.”

Read More: A new secret runway found in Laguna del Tigre National Park in Guatemala

On Monday (15th of May), an article written in Spanish by Plaza Pública and Mongabay Latam revealed the existence of the strip. The area had recently been devastated by a fire. Before publication, an executive from Perenco said that they did not know of any runway next to the Xan-30 well, even though a technician told reporters that all of their wells are checked every day. Initially, the Army – which has a detachment to look after the area 6km away from the strip – also said they knew nothing of it.

This time, instead of blowing it up, the authorities decided to dig a ditch about a meter deep by six meters wide in order to render the strip useless. Photo courtesy of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Guatemala.
Photo from the beginning of May, when the runway had just been discovered by a group of journalists. Photo by Manuel Morillo.