With two massive recent seizures of cocaine, Honduras has confiscated more of the drug in the first seven months of this year than for the whole of 2019. It’s a striking uptick in this key transit nation for cocaine headed to the U.S., where its president, an important ally to the Trump administration, has been implicated by drug traffickers.
The Honduras armed forces confiscated 806 kilos of cocaine in mid-July, from a small airplane they seized on the country’s eastern coast, known as La Mosquitia. Just a week later, they seized another 900 kilos in the same area, according to new government figures, this time from a small boat.
State security forces took possession of a total 2.24 tons of the illicit drug between January and July, more than the 2.21 tons they seized during all of last year.
Honduras is a major regional drug-trafficking hub. Planes and speed boats use La Mosquitia, which is covered by jungles and swamps, as a strategic stop from cocaine-producing countries in South America on their way north toward the United States.
Increases in drug seizures can indicate a number of dynamics, including an increase in the amount of drugs passing through an area as well as an escalation of law enforcement dedicated to detecting drug shipments. A spokesman at the Public Ministry in Honduras told VICE News that it worked with authorities from both Colombia and the United States on making the most recent seizures on drug routes from both Colombia and Venezuela.
But Honduras is a deeply compromised country, where the international cocaine trade and other criminal interests have corrupted authorities there to the highest level. Last year, the brother of the current President Juan Orlando Hernández, Juan Antonio Hernández, known as Tony – a former congressman — was convicted of drug trafficking in the United States in a case that also implicated the president.
President Hernández has denied accusations that he is connected to the drug trade, but observers think the recent increase in seizures in Honduras could be his way of trying to avoid scrutiny.
“President Juan Orlando Hernández is trying desperately to not be convicted as a drug trafficker like his brother, so he’s allowing or pushing for more interdiction to keep the U.S. happy,” said Doug Farah, president of IBI Consultants, a national security group focusing on transnational crime in Latin America. The Honduran government has worked with the U.S. to arrest and prosecute the leaders of some of its major drug trafficking organizations in recent years, and Honduras was deemed by the Trump administration as a “safe” third country for undocumented migrants in the U.S. to be deported to.
A massive legal investigation into corruption in the country was just dropped, killing what had been a promising fight against graft by some of the country’s most powerful elites.
Cocaine seizures in Honduras have surged during a time when most countries in the region have closed or restricted their borders as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that began in March.
“What this shows is that the whole northern Central American route that starts mainly in the Mosquito Coast of Honduras is as healthy as it has ever been,” said Hector Silva, a senior investigator at InSight Crime, a think tank focused on organized crime in Latin America.
Cover: A technician cuts open a package of cocaine prior to its destruction in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Friday March 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Fernando Antonio)