The Valles have been one of Honduras’ most successful criminal groups. They established their base along the Guatemalan border to fortify their position as a key go-between for Mexican, Colombian and Guatemalan organizations. A family-run group, over the course of many years, the Valles grew to become an important link in the transit of cocaine from South American producers to Mexican distributors, particularly the Sinaloa Cartel.
The US Treasury Department estimates the Valles moved “tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine” into the United States each month, and the organization would make more than $800,000 on a single shipment, according to testimony from former associates. Though most of their trafficked cocaine ended up in the United States, they also provided it to the domestic market, establishing links with local distributors such as Los Pinto, which operates in the south of Honduras.
Miguel Arnulfo Valle Valle, alias “Colocho”
Luis Alonso Valle Valle
Jose Reynerio Valle Valle
Drug trafficking, money laundering, arms trafficking
In addition to drug transport, the Valle family is heavily involved in real estate, with hotels and other property in the capital of Copán department and smaller municipalities. Like many other groups, they seem to have a diverse criminal repertoire beyond cocaine transportation, including links to arms smuggling and money laundering.
In addition to coffee farms and cattle ranches, the family’s business interests have included fitness centers, commercial centers, hardware stores, and even a cable television company.
Nearly the entire leadership structure of the group has been dismantled, with top leaders extradited to stand trial in the United States, leaving the future of the organization in question.
The Valles’ origins as drug traffickers are unclear, but Miguel Arnulfo Valle Valle, alias “Colocho,” and his younger brother Luis Alfonso created one of the region’s most influential and best-organized trafficking groups controlling Honduras’ borders. Compared to other groups like the Cachiros, they employed a relatively small number of people, most of whom have maintained a very low profile.
The Valle family originally lived in the town of La Entrada in Copán, about 20 miles from the Guatemalan border, but their base of operations was the nearby village of El Espíritu, located an hour’s walk from an unsupervised border crossing in the middle of the forest. Though El Espíritu only has a few thousand residents, it is filled with luxury cars and large houses protected by security cameras. The family owns significant property there, including a large hacienda that has hosted “El Chapo” on at least one of his visits to the country.
The Valles were led by Miguel Arnulfo Valle Valle and his two brothers Luis Alfonso and Jose Reynerio. Their sister, Digna Valle Valle, was the first of the siblings to fall. She was arrested in an airport in the US state of Florida on July 20, 2014.
Miguel Arnulfo and Luis Alfonso were then arrested in October 2014 and extradited to the United States that December. Just days earlier, Honduran authorities arrested José Inocente Valle Valle, the youngest brother in the family and whom authorities have identified as the third in command in the family’s operations.
Authorities have identified very few associates who have worked with the Valles, but one of them is Gualberto Alonso Chinchilla, a local businessman who is currently in hiding.
More recently, authorities have launched operations against lower-ranking members of the Valles’ organization, including several of the Valle siblings’ children who were also wanted by the United States.
In February 2019, Honduras announced the arrest of José Reynerio, the last of the Valle siblings who was still at large. He is alleged to have acted as the criminal clan’s front man and run its money laundering structure.
The group operates primarily in Copán department, a once-rumored hideout of incarcerated Mexican drug lord and Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo.” The province is also home to Honduras’ exit point on the international cocaine trafficking route known as the “road of death,” which runs east to west from the Cachiros’ territory in Gracias a Dios department at the Nicaraguan border to the Guatemalan border crossing in Copán.
Allies and enemies
The Valles’ longstanding associations with El Chapo and the Sinaloa Cartel granted them significant protection and freedom within their territory. The siblings appeared to have enough influence and ranking to interact directly with Mexican cartel representatives, who are often spotted in towns throughout Copán.
Alexander Ardón, the mayor of El Paraíso, a wealthy Copán municipality on the Guatemalan border, was reportedly an ally of the Valles. He has been described as “eccentric” for his habit of traveling in an armored vehicle accompanied by 40 armed bodyguards, building a mayoral residence modeled after the White House complete with a rooftop helipad, and flying in Norteño music acts from as far away as Mexico for private concerts.
Less diplomatic sources have described Ardón as a drug trade facilitator and beneficiary who plays host to Sinaloa Cartel representatives and local traffickers like the Valles, who seem to have carte blanche to carry out their activities within the region. In the only interview he has ever given to the press, Ardón described himself as “the king of the village.” — a village that is, by all accounts, almost entirely controlled by the Valles and supporters like Ardón.
The group has come to hold a great deal of political clout as well. Mayra Lemus, the wife of Luis Alfonso Valle Valle, has served as deputy mayor of the town of Florida in Copán.
The Valles also have associates on the route between the Honduran border and Mexico. The siblings reportedly maintained a five-year working relationship with notorious Salvadoran drug trafficker Jorge Ernesto Ulloa Sibrian, alias “Repollo,” who has also been linked to the Sinaloa Cartel. Ulloa was charged with trafficking at least 10 metric tons of cocaine through Guatemala and El Salvador between 2000 and his arrest in March 2013 — much of it through alliances with the Valles and their infrastructure.
In July 2014, Digna Valle Valle was arrested in the US state of Florida. Shortly afterward, in August, Honduran authorities moved against the Valles’ properties, seizing more than 50 in one operation. Days later, the US Treasury added the three brothers — Miguel Arnulfo, Luis Alfonso and Jose Reynerio — to its “kingpin list,” drawing the future of the group into question.
Just three months after being added to the kingpin list, Honduran security forces arrested two of the brothers — who were then extradited to the United States — and subsequently dismantled virtually all of the Valles’ leadership structure.
The arrests allegedly went forward because the group attempted to assassinate President Juan Orlando Hernández shortly after he took office in 2014, according to testimony given by Ardón at the trial of the President’s brother, Tony Hernández.
Now that so many of the Valle Valle siblings have been arrested and extradited, it is possible that the clan’s weakened operations are being led by their children, several of whom have themselves been arrested in recent years.