‘Organized Crime Permeates Society’ in Honduras: Presidential Advisor

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While Honduran drug traffickers testify in US courts about their ties with the country’s political class, a presidential advisor in Honduras has no qualms about saying that the links between criminals and candidates encompass all political parties.

Honduras’ political class for months has been keeping a concerned eye on a New York court, where self-confessed drug trafficker Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga has testified to dealings with a spate of Honduran elites.

On October 17, an advisor to President Juan Orlando Hernández said Rivera Maradiaga’s allegations concerned politicians of all stripes.

“If we’re going to look at how organized crime has permeated society in general and funneled money, placed deputies, placed judges, various offices, within the attorney general’s office and everywhere, hold on to your seats, because we’re talking about all colors here,” presidential advisor Ebal Díaz said in comments reported by La Tribuna.

Díaz is President Hernández’ chief of staff, according to the official government webpage. He is charged, among other things, with “coordinating and following up on activities relevant to the president and the cabinet.”

“There is an extradition list … They come from all colors, and if some keep digging, they’re certainly going to find dirt there … from people very close to presidential candidates that have taken up this issue, and have started talking about the New York Times,” the advisor added, referring to a recent article by the US newspaper that relayed accusations from Rivera Maradiaga tainting Hernández. “Many close acquaintances and some candidates are on that list.”

Published on October 6, the New York Times article recounted part of the story of how Rivera Maradiaga — the former leader of the Cachiros drug trafficking group who confessed to being responsible for nearly 80 murders — struck a deal with US authorities to obtain judicial leniency in exchange for providing information on corrupt officials.

SEE ALSO: Cachiros News and Profile

It is on the basis of Rivera Maradiaga’s testimony that New York prosecutors succeeded in charging seven Honduran police officers, the son of former President Porfirio Lobo and members of the powerful Rosenthal family. The Cachiros leader also levied accusations against the brother of former President Manuel Zelaya, as well as the brother of current President Hernández.

Among the evidence presented by US prosecutors is an audio in which an unidentified drug trafficker tells Rivera Maradiaga about a $250,000 bribe destined for Hernández. The president, who does not face any official accusations, has denied these allegations.

Meanwhile, the head of the governing National Party (Partido Nacional), Renaldo Sánchez, demanded that Zelaya release the names of officials from his former government and members from his former Liberal Party that have been mentioned in the New York court.

Statements by Juan Ramón Matta Waldurraga — another suspected drug trafficker who recently handed himself over to US authorities — may add to these telling declarations of the rampant links between drug trafficking and Honduran politics.

InSight Crime Analysis

At the same time as Honduran drug traffickers are pointing fingers at politicians in the Central American country, the politicians appear to have started a war of words in which the central thread seems to be an acceptance that drug trafficking and organized crime have infiltrated the state for decades.

As presidential advisor Díaz just pointed out, the infiltration hasn’t discriminated in terms of political ideology or party: “All,” the official said, have been “permeated.” It’s no coincidence that the accusations have involved the country’s last three presidents, including former Liberal Party member Zelaya as well as Lobo and Hernández, both members of the National Party.

SEE ALSO: How Drug Trafficking Operates, Corrupts in Central America

All this comes just six weeks before Honduras will hold general elections in which Hernández will face off against Salvador Nasralla of the Libre party, founded by Zelaya, as well as Luis Orlando Zelaya (no relation) of the Liberal Party. The accusations about political ties to drug trafficking will undoubtedly play a key role in the run-up to the late November vote.

The allegations surrounding President Hernández could also have repercussions in Washington, where the leader has become a crucial player in conversations about US aid programs for Central America’s “Northern Triangle” countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

In 2015, as part of the so-called “Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle,” the US Senate conditioned part of a $750 million aid package on the implementation of anti-corruption efforts by the region’s governments. In addition, it established a verification mechanism that included a semi-annual report to the State Department on that subject.

In order for aid disbursements to go forward under the 2018 fiscal year budget, approved by the Senate this summer, the State Department still must certify Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador according to those provisions. In the case of the first two countries, two sources in Washington who requested anonymity said recent accusations of corruption against elite politicians have generated “concern” in this regard.

That corruption exists in Central America is not exactly news. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated in a 2013 study of organized crime in the Northern Triangle that successive governments in the region had protected in one way or another the principal drug trafficking groups that operate there.

The New York prosecutors in the case against the Cachiros’ Rivera Maradiaga have no doubt about this. They say, according to the drug trafficker’s testimony, that Honduras is a place where “drug trafficking is sponsored by the state.”

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