Note: Central America cannot be separated from Mexico. The issues of
corruption, drug and human trafficking, cash and weapons are tightly
interrelated. Most of the Central American countries have also been
significant recipients of U.S. aid, including weapons, munitions and
equipment, some of which makes it's way north.
Would be very interesting to find out how much U.S. aid to Central
America has made it to organized crime. The exports have a extensive
paper trail, need someone with the resources to follow it.
Those interested in arms trade issues will find the following quite
interesting. Not that far from Columbia to Mexico.
The following very short of details, but representative and
instructive. Information on U.S arms sales to other governments is
far from inclusive and complete, it's a policy thing.
"The U.S. Government views the sale, export, and re-transfer of
defense articles and defense services as an integral part of
safeguarding U.S. national security and furthering U.S. foreign
policy objectives. The Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC),
in accordance with 22 U.S.C. 2778-2780 of the Arms Export Control Act
(AECA) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) (22
CFR Parts 120-130), is charged with controlling the export and
temporary import of defense articles and defense services covered by
the United States Munitions List (USML).
Honduras becomes Western Hemisphere cocaine hub
By MARK STEVENSON Associated Press
Posted: 10/30/2011 08:56:06 AM MDT
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras—On Honduras' swampy Mosquitia coast, entire
villages have made a way of life off the country's massive cocaine
transshipment trade. In broad daylight, men, women and children
descend on passing go-fast boats to offload bales of cocaine destined
for the United States.
Along the Atlantic coast, the wealthy elite have accumulated dozens
of ranches, yachts and mansions from the drug trade.
And in San Pedro Sula, local gangs moving drugs north have spawned
armies of street-level dealers whose violence has given the rougher
neighborhoods of the northern industrial city a homicide rate that is
only comparable to Kabul, Afghanistan.
Long an impoverished backwater in Central America, Honduras has
become a main transit route for South American cocaine.
"Honduras is the number one offload point for traffickers to take
cocaine through Mexico to the U.S.," said a U.S. law enforcement
official who could not be quoted by name for security reasons. A U.S.
State Department report released in March called Honduras "one of the
primary landing points for South American cocaine."
Almost half of the cocaine that reaches the United States is now
offloaded somewhere along the country's coast and heavily forested
interior—a total of 20 to 25 tons each month, according to U.S. and
Authorities intercept perhaps 5 percent of that, according to
calculations by The Associated Press based on official estimates of
flow and seizures.
The flow is hard to stem, said Alfredo Landaverde, a former adviser
to the Honduran security ministry, because there are few other
sources of cash income here.
"We have to recognize that this society is very vulnerable,"
Landaverde said. "This is a country permeated by corruption, among
police commanders, businessmen, politicians."
The country's isolated, impoverished Atlantic coast, remote ranches
and largely unguarded border with Guatemala—where much of the cocaine
is taken—also make it a haven for traffickers.
"When the traffickers are unloading a go-fast boat in (the Atlantic
coast province of) Gracias a Dios, you can sometimes see 70 to 100
people of all ages out there helping unload it," said the U.S. law
enforcement official. "The traffickers look for support among local
In the past year, authorities seized 12 tons of cocaine, according to
the Honduran government—a vast improvement from previous years, but
still a small portion of the estimated 250 to 300 tons that come
Most of the cocaine arrives in Honduras via the sea, in speedboats,
fishing vessels and even submersibles. In July, the U.S. Coast Guard,
with Honduras' help, detained one such craft that had been plying the
waters with about 5 tons of cocaine per trip.
Fishermen who once worked catching lobster now look instead for a
much more prized catch, the so-called "white lobster"—bales of
cocaine jettisoned by drug traffickers to either escape detection or
to be picked up by another boat.
Honduras is also by far the region's biggest center for airborne
smuggling. Of the hundreds of illicit flights northward out of South
America, 79 percent land in Honduras, said the U.S. official. Ninety-
five percent of those flights hail from Venezuela, which also has
become a link for cocaine produced elsewhere.
Landing aircraft in Honduras was once so profitable and planes so
easy to get that traffickers would sometimes simply offload the drugs
and burn the aircraft, rather than take off again from dangerously
rudimentary clandestine landing strips.
Last year, however, they started reusing the planes to ferry loads of
bulk cash back to Colombia, the U.S. State Department report said.
Authorities found one load of $9 million in U.S. cash stuffed in
plastic bags in the trunk of a car, and millions at a time in
suitcases at local airports.
Earlier this year, as aircraft became more difficult to obtain,
traffickers stole a military plane from the San Pedro Sula army base
on the Atlantic coast, said Landaverde, adding that soldiers were
accomplices to the theft.
"The plane is left outside," he said. "Some guys turn it on and take
off. Nobody leaves a plane like that, ready to fly." In fact, one of
the soldiers involved in that incident was later arrested in
September with other ex-soldiers as they allegedly waited to meet a
drug flight on the country's Atlantic coast.
It is not just poverty-stricken fishermen and corrupt soldiers who
are the beneficiaries of the emergent cocaine republic. Last week,
authorities seized 13 luxurious homes and ranches and 17 boats in the
first such mass raid since the country enacted a drug-properties
seizure law in 2010. All were owned by local people.
Key members of the region's business community who have hotel, real
estate and retail holdings have been named as associates of the
cartels, often for money laundering. Nor are the drug trade's ripple
effects restricted to the coast.
Copan, a Guatemalan border province popular with tourists because of
its Mayan ruins, is a lawless area dominated by business interests
tied to the drug trade, said a radio station owner who asked not to
be quoted by name for security reasons.
"These people move without shame in politics and the business world,"
the station owner said. "They are involved in large-scale businesses
in tourism. This region has been separated from the nation's
territory. It is their lair."
At the other end of the economic spectrum are local street gangs, who
are often paid in drugs as well as cash to move drugs north. Their
ranks are growing and competition among them has pushed up the
country's escalating homicide rate to one of the highest in the world.
The country of 7.7 million people saw 6,200 killings in 2010. That's
the equivalent of 82.1 homicides per 100,000 people—well above the 66
per 100,000 in neighboring El Salvador.
Others are becoming players in the bulk trade, the U.S. official
said, remarking that, "Lately, we've seen some gangs that will
purchase the cocaine and resell it."
The high volume of drugs coupled with the alarming homicide rate is
tough to address in a nation where many police and army officers are
working with drug gangs.
Corrupt law enforcement officials had a fierce foe in the person of
former Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez, who was fired by
President Porfirio Lobo in September after proposing a law to purge
the police force of corrupt cops.
Alvarez had said publicly that some corrupt police essentially act as
air traffic controllers for the drug flights. When a suspected drug
flight was detected in August, Alvarez was quoted by a local
newspaper as saying that two police officials not assigned to the
district were in the area—their cellphone signals were traced to the
control tower where the plane landed.
Alvarez claimed he was fired because of his campaign to clean up the
police force, saying, "It was easier to get rid of a minister than to
get rid of a corrupt cop."
But his replacement, Pompeyo Bonilla, said that given Honduras'
highly protective labor laws, a mass firing of police officers
probably would have been quickly followed by the reinstatement of many.
He also claimed that Alvarez overstepped his authority by sending his
proposed police cleanup law to congress without even telling Lobo.
"The president heard about it on television," Bonilla said.
Alvarez, who left for the United States soon after his dismissal, was
not available for an interview, according to an unidentified woman
who answered his U.S. cellphone number.
U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kubiske said she expects to work well with
Bonilla. "President Lobo's administration is totally serious about
fighting the cartels," Kubiske said. "When you talk to them,
counternarcotics is almost the first word out of their mouths."
Alvarez was accustomed to dropping bombshells, including the claim
that fugitive Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman had visited
Honduras' border region next to Guatemala.
In March, police under Alvarez's command raided a remote mountain lab
in northeastern Honduras. Alvarez said the lab processed cocaine from
the paste of partly processed coca leaves, the first time that would
have been done outside South America and an ominous development for
Honduras. The lab, however, had apparently not yet been put to use.
Bonilla said the lab was a small one, quickly dismantled, and no
other such lab has been discovered in Honduras. "We are rather more a
transit route" than a producer or processor, Bonilla said.
Some doubt the lab was intended to process coca paste; it may have
been simply dedicated to cutting and repackaging imported cocaine,
which is usually cut many times before it reaches the street.
"We haven't seen any evidence of cocaine processing taking place in
Honduras so far," the U.S. official said, adding, "Twelve thousand
kilos of cocaine were seized in Honduras this year, and we haven't
seen a single ounce of cocaine paste."
Associated Press writer Luis Alonso in Washington contributed to this