Heavily Pursued by Perfume Industry, an Iconic Caribbean Tree Perishes

The Guaconejo tree was once abundant on the island of Hispaniola, of which Haiti and the Dominican Republic form part. Its majestic smell defined the whole island, but it has now become its own undoing. 

Over the past few decades, deforestation has essentially transformed the very face of Haiti itself, with the country now having less than 5% forest cover. Meanwhile, Haiti's neighbor, the Dominican Republic, has embarked on an ambitious reforestation program, with 40% of the country blanketed in trees. 

Although the two countries share one single island, they're worlds apart, and the difference is even visible from satellite images. 

That massive difference in forest cover has created mass desperation on the Haitian side of the island of Hispaniola, with many people finding themselves unable to engage in any other labor beyond illegally cutting down trees in what's left of the Dominican Republic's forests.

"What can you do? I have a family to feed," is a common refrain on the border. 
Trucks trek mountain roads on a daily basis. DL

In 2014, Diario Libre, a large circulation daily in the Caribbean, sounded the alarm on the deplorable situation which faced the Guaconejo tree, as even a cursory trip through the border led them to a band of traffickers carrying a truckload of the prized perfume source. 

For a mere 4 dollars a day, a Dominican smuggler with a truck can hire a Haitian to ferry as much wood as the vehicle can carry. The Guaconejo is sent to Haiti's capital, where it is processed into oil and shipped abroad, primarily to perfume factories in France. 

Although the European companies purchasing the contraband can be easily traced and held liable, the Dominican government so far has refused to comment on the grave issue. 

Pelegrin Castillo, a prominent Dominican jurist, recently decried the "atomic bomb" menacing the island of Hispaniola, as the Guaconejo tree now faces the threat of extinction, and can only be found in the deep mountains, increasingly driving traffickers into pristine forest area.

The perfume industry could be held to account for its vast involvement in one of the most diabolical deforestation conspiracies of the 21st century, but where there's profit there are bribes, and where there are bribes there's a mafia, and mafias are notoriously difficult to uproot.