The Zetas Set Up Shop in Honduras

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Honduras’ defense minister believes that Mexican cartel the Zetas have established a significant presence in this vulnerable central American nation, contributing to the world’s highest murder rate.

Defense Minister Marlon Pascua said that there were indications that the Zetas were operating in Honduras, and that the security forces were investigating. He stated that the Zetas were not the only transnational criminal organization operating on Honduran soil.

“There are various organizations, not only Honduran, but also with people infiltrated from other countries, Mexican cartels which have relationships with Honduran criminals and Colombian cartels, which also have relationships with criminals here.”

This statement follows the seizure in Honduras last month of vehicles and weapons allegedly belonging to the Zetas, among them a gold-plated AK-47.

Honduras is one of the most dangerous nations on earth, with a murder rate of over 85 homicide per 100,000 inhabitants.

InSight Crime Analysis

This is not the first time that Honduran authorities have recognized the presence of Mexican cartels on their soil. In April 2011, then-security minister Oscar Alvarez stated that both the Sinaloa and Zetas cartels had been detected in the four northern provinces of Ocotepeque, Copan, Colon, and Atlantida. Pascua’s remarks have also been echoed by a regional police commander in Honduras’ Colon department, who said that young men in the area were being recruited and taken to Mexico to work for the Zetas.

Honduras is not the only Central American nation with Zetas presence. The Mexican gang “invaded” Guatemala in 2011 (see the InSight Crime Special “The Zetas in Guatemala“). Guatemala’s former President Alvaro Colom called on Central American nations to join efforts in repulsing the Zetas. President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador has also expressed worry about the expansion of the Zetas into his nation, stating they were seeking alliances with local criminal groups.

Honduras has become the principal handover point for cocaine between Colombian and Mexican cartels. Transnational organized crime follows the path of least resistance. Thanks to political instability, rampant corruption in the security forces and judicial system, Honduras has become that path of least resistance. Added to this is the fact that Honduras is the principal air bridge for cocaine from South America, with the departure point being Venezuela. Tons of cocaine are pouring into this vulnerable Central American nation by land, sea, and air. The sea routes pass through the Caribbean in go-fast boats and submarines, with cocaine shipments unloading on the little-guarded Honduran coastline. Land consignments come up the Pan-American Highway from Panama.

The Zetas’ rivals, the Sinaloa Cartel, are also believed to have set up shop in Honduras, handling not only cocaine, but synthetic drugs.

The Zetas were initially founded as a protection and hit squad for the Gulf Cartel, and were made up of former Mexican special forces operatives. There is evidence that they have reached out to Honduran ex-military, and may be including these men, and their enviable skill sets, into their organization.

There is a difference between having representatives in a country, and an established presence with military capability. The Zetas have long had representatives in Honduras supervising the receipt and transport of cocaine shipments from South America. What these latest declarations suggest is that the group has established a more formal presence, and along with the seizure of weapons, a military presence.

This is almost certain to be the case, and this tendency of Zetas cells appearing not only in Honduras, but across Central America, is likely to continue as pressure on the group increases on its home turf in Mexico. The Zetas are stretching further south, closer and closer to the Andean nations that grow the coca, and produce cocaine. Evidence of Zetas ties to the Colombian transnational criminal organization, the Urabeños, is now incontrovertible. The closer the Mexican cartels can get to the production centers, the cheaper they can buy cocaine, and the higher their profits are.

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