Arrests Add to Murky Picture of Crime-Politics Links in Honduras

Authorities in Guatemala have captured two suspects linked to an alleged criminal network run by a powerful political family from Honduras, the most recent development in a case indicative of the convoluted relationship between organized crime and politics in Central America.

On August 18, Guatemalan authorities — using information from an undisclosed North American intelligence agency — arrested Honduran nationals Juan Antonio Salgado Sarmientos and Alcides Moreira Zambrano, reported El Heraldo. The two men are suspected of providing financial support to Ivan Padilla, an alleged Honduran drug trafficker with links to a potential criminal network run by Honduras’ Sarmiento family — a well-known political and cattle ranching family.  

In July, Honduran police intelligence claimed to have evidence linking members of the Sarmiento family to criminal activities, including contract killing, kidnapping, arms trafficking, and drug trafficking. On July 8, Honduran authorities issued an Interpol alert for the capture of the head of the family, Ulises Sarmiento, and his son Javier Fabricio Sarmiento on charges of illegal gun possession. Neither have been captured.

Five days previously, however, on July 3, Ulises Sarmiento had been detained by Nicaraguan authorities, only to be released the next day. Ulises was in Nicaragua with members of his family seeking political asylum, claiming persecution for involvement with Honduras’ opposition political party Libertad y Refundacion (LIBRE) and support for ex-President Manuel Zelaya.

InSight Crime Analysis

The unfolding saga surrounding the Sarmiento family is indicative of the convoluted relationship between politics and organized crime in Honduras. Sarmiento is thought to finance LIBRE, which is currently in a power struggle with the ruling National Party. 

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

Indeed, the capture of suspected Sarmiento affiliates in Guatemala — and the issuance of Interpol warrants for Ulises and his son — could represent one of two things. One is that it is a move by political opponents of Ulises Sarmiento to upend a powerful opposition figure. However, it could also be a legitimate attempt by Honduran authorities to crack down on an alleged criminal network.

More likely than not, however, it is some combination of the two. Politics and crime have long mixed in Honduras, with the country’s economic and political elites frequently found to be engaging in criminal activities.