One of Honduras’ most notorious drug traffickers has agreed to cooperate with US authorities after pleading guilty to drug trafficking charges. His testimony could implicate high-ranking members of Honduras’ security forces and possibly even a member of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s family just as the president revs up his re-election campaign.
Wilter Neptalí Blanco Ruíz, the purported former head of the Atlantic Cartel, pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges July 2, and agreed to provide information on other criminal organizations to US authorities, La Tribuna reported.
The United States indicted Blanco in August 2016, charging him with conspiring to distribute and import cocaine into the US since at least 1999. He also faces money laundering charges in Honduras. Blanco was arrested in Costa Rica in November 2016, and he was extradited to the United States March 15.
SEE ALSO: Atlantic Cartel Profile
Blanco reportedly operated in Honduras for more than a decade with protection from the military, police and politicians.
InSight Crime Analysis
Blanco’s agreement to cooperate with US authorities was expected but will nonetheless send shivers through more than a few political and bureaucratic elites in Honduras. In October 2016, a US government press release listed a handful of people, among them military officials, with alleged links to Blanco’s Atlantic Cartel. An anonymous source later revealed that US and Honduran intelligence officers were investigating 35 individuals, including several politicians and members of the country’s security forces.
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles
Shortly after these revelations, Army Captain Rodríguez Orellana said that a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent pressured him for information on the president’s brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, who is a congressman. While the US did not publicly connect Tony Hernández to the case, a US Embassy official told InSight Crime at the time that he was a “person of interest.” Tony Hernández has denied all charges against him.
The case also comes as President Hernández prepares his re-election bid. In March, Hernández became the National Party’s candidate for the November presidential elections.