Presidential Pilot Trial Raises Questions of CentAm Elite Corruption

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The trial of a former Guatemalan congressman and an ex-presidential pilot accused of drug trafficking has got underway in Honduras, in a case featuring a tangled web of Central American elites and criminals.

The trial involves former congressional representative Juan Luis Gonzalez and pilot Haward Gilberto Suhr Castellanos, both from Guatemala, who were arrested in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on December 6, 2012, and, accused along with 10 others, of drug trafficking, money laundering and document falsification, reported elPeriodico

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During the raids leading up to the arrests, which also included a second pilot and a former Honduran official, authorities found 12 vehicles with Guatemalan license plates and hidden compartments allegedly used for drug storage, and 10.5 tons of methamphetamine precursor pseudoephedrine. In total, 83 suspects were accused of involvement in a drug trafficking network composed of Guatemalans, Hondurans, Mexicans and Colombians.

Suhr is a co-founder of Aeroservicios Centroamericanos, S.A. (Aerocentro) and also worked for the Guatemalan government’s Civil Aeronautics agency until September 2012. Gonzalez was a former soldier, helicopter pilot and representative for the Alta Verapaz province, with suspected drug trafficking connections in the area.

InSight Crime Analysis

Aerocentro allegedly forms part of a network of companies involved in money laundering and drug transport, and has also transported high level officials, including former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo, and the current president and vice president, Otto Perez Molina and Roxana Baldetti, during their 2011 presidential campaign.

Suhr personally piloted 42 flights for Perez, who is shareholder in Aerocentro, and Baldetti between January 2011 and November 2012. The head of Aerocentro, Guillermo Abraham Lozano Bauer, also formerly worked as a pilot for Perez, and is thought to have assisted Baldetti in managing suspicious airport contracts.

In 2010, Honduran authorities discovered an Aerocentro helicopter operating an illegal flight in the country’s Mosquitia region and the helicopter was later found to have drug residues inside it. According to Southern Pulse, the company may have connections to the Sinaloa Cartel. 

As well as the airline’s shady operations, the case involves a complex web of officials, and political motives for the investigation should not be discounted. It is also interesting that Lozano, who has significant government contacts, has not yet been caught up in the case.

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