The Catatumbo River originates in northeastern Colombia’s Norte de Santander Department and flows to Venezuelan Lake Maracaibo. For generations, it has provided passage for fishermen and small farmers; but increasingly, it is being used to transport illegal good like weapons, timber and coca crops, from which cocaine is produced. The location of the Catatumbo region sits on the border with Venezuela, making it a strategic route for armed groups such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), to traffic drugs out of Colombia. Territorial disputes over coca-producing areas reportedly happen daily, and residents say they live in fear of displacement or even death if they speak out about illegal activities connected to the region’s drug trade. Those who agreed to speak to Mongabay did so on the condition of anonymity; their names have been changed in this story. “Be very careful with this information,” said Pablo*, a farmer. Recently cleared land in Catatumbo Barí National Natural Park. Photo courtesy of the Colombian Army Vulcano Task Force. In addition to a threatening environment for local communities, the illegal cultivation of coca and its manufacture into cocaine appears to be coming at the cost of the region’s forests. Even areas given the highest level of protection are not immune – including Catatumbo Barí National Natural Park, where satellites are detecting deforestation creeping deeper and deeper into the park’s old growth rainforest. The rise of coca Today Pablo cultivates legal crops, but until a few…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer