The recent murder of Hugo Pinto Aguilar, a former congressman for Honduras’ ruling National Party, suggests a shift in criminal power in one of the country’s prized drug trafficking enclaves.
Pinto was killed on May 16 in the border town of El Paraíso in western Copán department, El Heraldo reported. The former deputy was at home with another person, identified as Melvin Solís, when a group of armed men entered the place and shot both men dead, according to reports in the Honduran press.
Pinto was part of the so-called Los Pinto clan, a drug trafficking organization that emerged in Copán in the shadow of the powerful Valles clan, which controlled the movement of cocaine into neighboring with Guatemala starting in the early 2000s, El Heraldo reported, quoting government documents.
The Pinto family was also prominently mentioned in the 2019 drug trafficking trial of Tony Hernández, the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. During the trial, Alexander Ardón, a former mayor of El Paraíso currently imprisoned in the United States, revealed that Los Pinto had been his drug trafficking partners in Copán.
Currently, Los Pinto are one of the main criminal groups that control drug trafficking routes that connect the south of Honduras and the country’s western border with Guatemala, a Honduran judge told InSight Crime
A Honduran military intelligence officer told InSight Crime that the Pintos were in charge of Ardón’s security until he was turned over to US authorities in 2018.
In 2015, Honduran authorities froze several assets tied to Pinto and his family members for having an “illicit origin.”
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The Honduran prosecutor’s office has not indicated the possible motive for Pinto’s murder. But his past and his family’s involvement in drug trafficking through western Honduras expose a potential shift in control of the cocaine trade running through Copán, one of the most important trafficking corridors in Central America.
A military intelligence officer told InSight Crime on the condition of anonymity that the evidence collected so far indicates that the legislator was assassinated for his ties to drug trafficking.
Sources interviewed by InSight Crime in Honduras have also said that recent violence in Copán has been linked to the fall of the Valle clan beginning in 2014, and the later arrest of Tony Hernández and surrender of Ardón to US authorities in 2018.
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In December 2018, hitmen assassinated Javier Erazo, a former ally of the Valles, who had tried to seize the clan’s cattle and drug routes, according to Honduran investigators.
“The rearrangements in the world of drug trafficking have generated violence and massacres, especially in rural areas,” said a Latin American diplomat who was stationed in Tegucigalpa until last year and closely followed organized crime in Honduras.
However, Ricardo Castro, director of Honduras’ Technical Agency for Criminal Investigation (Agencia Técnica de Investigación — ATIC), told InSight Crime that there are still several hypotheses about Pinto’s murder.
It may still be too early to conclusively prove whether Pinto, yet another National Party politician tainted by ties to organized crime, was killed because of his links to drug trafficking in Copán. But for now, all signs point that way.