August 20, 2008

La Prensa exposé: Narcotrafficking in Honduras, part I

4.6 tons of cocaine confiscated in Honduras All photos: La Prensa, Honduras

Honduras is at the point of converting into a narco state."

Recently Ambassadors from the US and France in Honduras have publicly suggested that Honduras is becoming a major center of narcotrafficking and many others have suggested that high level officials in the government and police are connected.

President Manuel Zelaya, who seems to follow the theory that 'if it isn't reported, it doesn't exist', was enraged at the comments, claiming they are trying to damage the image of the country. He angrily threatened to "take measures" against the Ambassadors, who Zelaya says "shouldn't opine about our business".

Narcotrafficking and money laundering is something that virtually everyone in Honduras at least vaguely thinks about and most have their suspicions about certain people and/or activities. Last week, La Prensa published a week-long investigative report of narcotrafficking in Honduras which brought to light facts which support the statements of the Ambassadors.

High police official releases narco leader

In the early morning hours on June 15th, one of the most wanted capos of the Atlantico cártel fell into the hands of a police operation in Santa Barbara, Honduras, along with 30 of his compatriots and an arsenal of illegal weapons. The 32 police officers confiscated arms including MP5s, M-16s, 9 mms, 38 specials, shotguns, and two AK-47s, as well as 13 SUVs blindados (bullet proof).

With the excuse that they had committed no crimes − despite the fact that they were carrying weapons illegal in Honduras and could have been arrested and jailed under Honduras' strict 'illicit association' law − the police officer in charge ordered that the guns be returned and that the narcos be released. He ordered the police to put down their guns, but the subcommissioner of police yelled, "raise up your weapons!"

As reported by one anonymous police officer who witnessed the event, after much argument between the two police chiefs, with the capo demanding to be released, the weapons were returned to the narcos, a band which is said to be dedicated to murder for hire and auto thefts as well as narcotrafficking.

A few hours later, the chief of police was relieved of his duties and suspended from his position by the Minister of Security, but no charges were brought against him, even though there were 32 police witnesses to his actions.


Elements of the police affirm that in many occasions, narcos provide free recharges for the cellphones of police agents who will keep them informed of police operations. Others pay in US dollars for any information about raids. More frequently now, those involved in drug trafficking are being paid in drugs rather than money. Another agent stated that many of the captured narcos are released almost instantly due to the political influence that exists in Santa Barbara.


Drug routes pass through Copan

The departamento (state) of Copán is considered to include some of the major routes of drug trafficking because of its borders on the frontiers of Guatemala and El Salvador. La Prensa investigators noted constant helicopter flights overhead during their four days in Copán, flights for which the police had no information, and were shown a clandestine narco airstrip.

Recently constructed dirt roads through the mountains in perfect condition, isolated communities with private, guarded access, US dollars circulating as often as the lempira, and displays of wealth among the previously poor communities are testaments to narcotrafficking. Despite that, no elements of the Dirección de Lucha contra el Narcotráfico or the Groupo Especial Antinarcóticos are assigned there.


King of the Pueblo

On the dirt road to the city of El Paraíso, Copán, entrance is blocked by a gate, guarded by armed civilians. Only those who roll down their windows and report in are allowed admittance. The 32-year-old mayor with a 5th grade education is guarded by 20 body guards and proclaims himself to be "Rey del pueblo" (king of the village). From the borrowed room currently used as a mayor's office, reporters noted heavily armed individuals all around.

The self-proclaimed 'humble' dairy farmer is planning to build a L.12 million (US $635,000) municipal building modeled after Washington, D.C.'s White House, complete with helicopter pad and digital cameras in every corner. When asked by reporters about his wealth and rumors of illicit activities, he brags that he originally borrowed L.50,000 from the bank, then L.500,000, then a million, and now has a loan for L.10 million. He projects by the time he is 40, he will be able to borrow 20-30 million lempiras. While often mentioning God, his interview is peppered with words like verga, mierda, and jodido.


More tomorrow about Mexican drug capo 'El Chapo', money laundering, and the Honduran government renting a boat to narcos.

More from Bishop Santos in Part III.
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