A little-known, but powerful Honduran underworld figure was arrested in Guatemala on March 4, leading to yet another reconfiguration in an already shaken underworld and sparking intrigue as to what he can reveal about his political networks in both countries.
Víctor Hugo Díaz Morales, alias “El Rojo,” was captured along the Próceres Boulevard and 16th Street in Guatemala City, according to a Guatemalan Interior Ministry press release.
The ministry says Díaz Morales is facing drug trafficking charges in the Southern District of New York. Díaz Morales goes by at least two other names: Víctor Manuel Villegas Castillo and Víctor Manuel Villela.
Alias “El Rojo” detenido en boulevard Los Próceres, zona 10. SGAIA-PNC lo trasladó a torre de tribunales.
Captura con fines de extradición pic.twitter.com/p77sSTv1VI
? PNC Guatemala (@PNCdeGuatemala) March 5, 2017
Díaz Morales and his criminal organization operates mostly along the Guatemala-Honduras border, according to Honduras and Guatemalan authorities who spoke to InSight Crime on condition of anonymity during the course of the investigation into the alleged trafficker’s activities.
Over the last few years, Díaz Morales was thought to be operating mostly from Honduras, but the walls seemed to be closing in on him.
Last September, US counter-narcotics agents were fired at numerous times at close range with high-powered assault weapons in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, allegedly by Díaz Morales’ men who were startled by the agents’ presence. (See photo below)
InSight Crime Analysis
Díaz Morales’ arrest adds his name to a growing list of low-profile but powerful underworld figures whose absence leaves a hole in the distribution chain of cocaine through Central America.
In Honduras, Díaz Morales’ organization worked from Gracias, Lempira, according to the Honduras Attorney General’s Office. The prosecutor’s office also said that he became the most important operator in western Honduras following the arrests of several members of the Valle Valle clan and the arrest of Héctor Emilio Fernández, alias “Don H.”
Díaz Morales once worked for Fernández before the two split, according to El Heraldo. Fernández was extradited in February 2015, and may have provided key elements in the search for Díaz Morales. (Pictured below)
Fernández was not the only one in custody with information on Díaz Morales. Among Díaz Morales’ allies was Wilter Neptalí Blanco Ruíz. Blanco was arrested in Costa Rica in November 2016, and, like Díaz Morales, is awaiting extradition to the United States.
Before their arrests, Blanco’s and Díaz Morales’ operation was considered the strongest in Honduras, using a network that allegedly included politicians, police and military personnel. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández is from Gracias, Lempira. And Hernández’s brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández — who is a congressman — was ensnared in the investigation that led to the capture of Blanco, when a US Drug Enforcement Administration agent allegedly questioned a suspect about the congressman’s involvement in Blanco’s network.
During InSight Crime’s inquiries about the Blanco case, a US Embassy official said the president’s brother was a “person of interest” in the case. Tony Hernández denied any criminal activity.
For their part, Guatemalan authorities told InSight Crime Díaz Morales operated in the Esquipula, Chiquimula corridor. According to Guatemalan Interior Ministry sources, his allies once included Horst Walther Overdick, who was extradited to the United States in December 2012.
Together, Overdick and Díaz Morales allegedly made deals with mayors who were seeking to benefit from the movement of cocaine through their municipalities, ministry sources told InSight Crime.
With Díaz Morales and Blanco in custody and awaiting extradition, US authorities can begin to unspool the networks of political and security forces in both countries that allowed for the creation of such a powerful drug trafficking organization.