In the wake of the record 1.9 billion dollar fine imposed on HSBC for ‘laundering’ the profits of Mexican drug cartels the question arises of whether the bank would be liable in some part for the environmental damage caused both by the drug cartels activities as well as destructive counter-measures. As such would this constitute an ‘eco-crime’?
Bearing in mind the Mexican cartels were often moving on cocaine originating from Colombian coca fields, the environmental audit of drug trafficking would be hard to guess but the most prominent is undoubtedly deforestation to clear land. The pace of deforestation in Colombia has accelerated over the past 20 years, even as population growth has slowed and the economy has shifted from agriculture to other revenue sources.
Since rainforests contain about 10 percent of the world’s plant and animal species — some of which become the basis of new medicines — the drug-deforestation connection represents a serious threat to global biodiversity.
The massive environmental cost of supplying drugs, from growing through to distribution and the socio-economic impact, comes with the additional costs of counter-measures and enforcement, graphically demonstrated along the US-Mexico border.
In 1998, then President Bill Clinton unveiled an unprecedented $16 billion anti-drug initiative that included applying herbicides to crops in drug-producing nations. The U.S. initiative followed protocols outlined in the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
In producer countries, crops of coca, opium poppy, and marijuana have replaced native vegetation in an area covering over 1 million hectares (ha), often in protected areas such as species-rich rain-forests and erosion-prone cloud forests.
Additional environmental damage ensues from the cultivation and processing of these crops, which involve large volumes of pesticides, fertilizers, and toxic processing chemicals, generally dumped into rivers by farmers or washed into them by heavy rainfall.
Illicit crop plots replace native vegetation on government-owned lands; often these areas have been set aside to protect valuable natural resources, but such protection is unreliable because the parklands are frequently very remote, transportation is difficult, and land tenure laws are inadequate.
In the late 1970s, Mexico used equipment and training supplied by the United States in an aerial eradication programme using Paraquat provided by the Mexican
government: Paraquat is a highly toxic herbicide that affects the lungs, liver, kidneys, and cornea. It caused human deaths, some of which were reported in the
March – April 1993 issue of Archives of Environmental Health in an article describing sixteen deaths from Paraquat poisoning in Chiapas, Mexico, between 1988 and 1990.
– Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre