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In the Honduran Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, an illegal road for cattle and drugs

May 13, 2021
  • Multiple sources, backed by satellite data, say an illegal road is being cut through the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Sources say the road will facilitate land invasions into the biosphere and is likely to be used as a drug-trafficking route.
  • The road has created divisions between Indigenous groups, with the Bakinasta Miskito denouncing its presence and demanding the government step in to halt it.
  • Despite knowing about the road for more than a year, the Honduran government has not taken definitive action to enforce the law.

Beginning along Honduras’s northeastern coastline and stretching south into its dense interior rainforests lies the Río Plátano Biosphere. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, the Río Plátano is one of the most impressive ecosystems on the planet. Rivers swoop in wide arches through the forest, which is home to more than 721 known species of vertebrates, including jaguars, giant anteaters, and great green macaws. To its far south, the Río Plátano overlaps with Indigenous land reserves that spill across the border into neighboring Nicaragua’s Bosawas Biosphere Reserve.

In all, the 630,000-hectare (1.56-million-acre) protected reserve, along with its 200,000-hectare (494,000-acre) buffer zone and adjoining Indigenous territories, comprises some of the last intact remnants of the Mesoamerican rainforest, which once encompassed wide swaths of Central America. In recent years, the Río Plátano has also suffered from skyrocketing rates of deforestation, as illegal invasions by cattle ranchers, loggers, and drug traffickers have threatened the integrity of the biosphere.

Now, Mongabay has obtained evidence of an illegal road being cut directly through the Río Plátano’s buffer zone and into the heart of the Indigenous territories. Indigenous leaders in the area say the road is the “greatest threat in the Río Plátano” and accuse the Honduran government of turning a blind eye to their legal obligations to halt it.

“The road has been built as a tool for illicit actors, and will be used to traffic drugs, wood, and other products,” one leader told Mongabay.