Narcos diversify illicit income streams and expand into environmental crimes

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By LatAm Reports Staff Writers

Criminals extend their reach to ecological crimes, such as smuggling of wildlife or illegal extraction of resources.

Drug traffickers are diversifying their illicit activities, expanding their reach to ecological crimes, such as smuggling of wildlife or illegal extraction of resources, in a context that negatively affects women in particular.

This is highlighted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its World Drug Report 2024, published on Wednesday.

The interlocking nature of the drug economy, other illegal activities and armed conflict exacerbates human insecurity, destabilizes local communities and negatively affects fragile environments, the document warns.

Existing political instability and corruption exacerbate the situation and undermine governance, security and environmental stability, the agency adds.

Environmental degradation

This situation is particularly serious in the border areas, especially in the Golden Triangle – Birmania, Laos and Thailand – and at the border crossing between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay.

According to UNODC, criminals in these regions collaborate with armed groups, either for political or financial needs, and take advantage of borders to launder money, traffic in drugs and counterfeit products or illicitly extract resources.

These illegal operations contribute to environmental degradation through deforestation, dumping of toxic waste and chemical pollution.

Women, the most vulnerable

The impact of these activities on women is particularly disproportionate in contexts of poverty and conflict.

Many women are coerced or exploited by criminal organizations, and face significant risks of physical and sexual abuse.

Women involved in drug use or trafficking often face higher levels of gender-based violence and exploitation. Social and economic marginalization increases its vulnerability, UNODC stresses in its analysis.

According to this body, many women in this situation are used as mules to smuggle drugs.

When arrested by the authorities, they face severe consequences, in addition to continuing to depend economically on criminal groups, being trapped in cycles of exploitation and violence. 

This article has been translated after first appearing in Panama America