A firefight between security forces and a group of heavily armed suspected drug traffickers on Honduras’ Caribbean coast left 2 killed and 12 captured, in a sign of the security challenges facing the country’s new president, Juan Orlando Hernandez.
The incident occurred in the area of La Mosquitia in the Gracias a Dios province — the country’s eastern Caribbean tip along the so-called Mosquito Coast — after the Honduran military acted on a tip from international anti-drug forces, reported La Prensa.
When soldiers entered the village of Plaplaya in the early hours of January 25, they exchanged fire with the suspects, leaving two of the alleged traffickers dead. While some of the suspects escaped, authorities did capture 12 men — among them a Colombian and a Mexican national — after a series of raids, which also turned up high-caliber weapons, radio equipment and $99,000 in cash, reported El Heraldo.
The captured men will all now face charges of conspiracy, drug trafficking, illegal possession of weapons and attempted murder of government security forces, the news account noted.
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The bust highlights one of the major challenges faced by new President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who officially takes office today. Since 2009, Honduras has become an increasingly important drug trafficking hub and base of operations for international traffickers. Hernandez has pledged to enforce extradition in order to combat traffickers, yet whether any of the 12 captured will be high profile enough to warrant such action remains to be seen.
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The Mosquito Coast, which dominates the Nicaraguan Caribbean and stretches into Honduras, is a prime drug trafficking zone, popular among traffickers because its remoteness means there is little state presence.
The region is an important entry point for drug flights and drug-carrying boats entering the country. The US State Department estimates that 87 percent of cocaine smuggling flights departing South America land in Honduras. The presence of a Colombian and a Mexican national among the detainees points to the existence of international drug trafficking organizations operating in the region, which has previously been identified as a key handover point for Mexican and Colombian traffickers.
How Hernandez might seek to tame the violence and criminality along the coast remains to be seen, although he has been an active proponent of militarizing security.