The public prosecutor in charge of operations in the Morombí Reserve is Osvaldo García, from the Caaguazú Anti-Drug Unit. García is also a representative of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in the department of Caaguazú. According to García, one thing that would help reduce illegal deforestation in reserves would be to spread awareness of the problem by employing more environmental prosecutors from the regions where these crimes are happening. He also urged more buy-in from the government.

“I think that people in Asunción have no idea of everything that goes on here,” Garcia said, adding that “more state agencies need to be involved here because we are dealing with a criminal organization, a system of organized crime that works with timber, charcoal and marijuana.”

Tree trunks that cannot be removed from the land are burned. Image by Pánfilo Leguizamón.

But in this part of the country, the Public Prosecutor’s Office reportedly has very few resources. Sources say it lacks the technology needed to trace illicit activities or receive deforestation alerts via satellite.

“We do what we can on the ground,” García said. Despite the obstacles, he believes they are making progress.

García says 120 people connected to drug trafficking in eastern Paraguay have been convicted in the last three years. However, the judiciary has no records of cases that involve environmental crimes linked to marijuana.

García says that more recently it has become increasingly common to see minors involved in the trade. This, he said, “is a social problem. It can no longer be treated as simply a matter of drugs or the environment.”

In the first part of operation “Canindeyú – Caaguazú I,” 50 active marijuana plots were found in Morombí Reserve, corresponding to a total of 202 hectares of illegal plantations. Through SENAD’s intervention, some 600 metric tons of marijuana were destroyed. Authorities estimate this equates to a loss of $18 million for the drug-trafficking groups in the region.

Ruth Benítez, who works for INFONA, says that the degraded areas will be reforested with native tree species after the intervention.

Row upon row of marijuana plants grow where a forest once stood in Morombí Reserve as dead trees serve as reminders of what was lost. Image by Pánfilo Leguizamón.

As the end of the day approaches, dozens of anti-drug agents are still cutting down marijuana plants with machetes. The only other sound is the engine of the military helicopter, which is returning from the latest flight during which yet more illegal plantations were discovered.

“I hope your report helps to show how the reserve is being destroyed,” said one of the park rangers, adding that he doesn’t expect much to change after this latest intervention – an expectation that seems to have come true, at least in the near term.

 

This is a translated and adapted version of a story that was first published in Spanish by Mongabay Latam on May 267, 2020.

Banner image by Pánfilo Leguizamón.

Editor’s note: This story was powered by Places to Watch, a Global Forest Watch (GFW) initiative designed to quickly identify concerning forest loss around the world and catalyze further investigation of these areas. Places to Watch draws on a combination of near-real-time satellite data, automated algorithms and field intelligence to identify new areas on a monthly basis. In partnership with Mongabay, GFW is supporting data-driven journalism by providing data and maps generated by Places to Watch. Mongabay maintains complete editorial independence over the stories reported using this data.

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Article published by Morgan Erickson-Davis
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