A recent report highlights the alleged collusion of Honduran military personnel with drug traffickers along the country’s remote eastern coast, suggesting Honduras’ current security force reform should also include the country’s military.
According to El Heraldo, despite the presence of Honduras’ armed forces in La Mosquitia, an inaccessible region that sits along the Caribbean Sea and Nicaraguan border, the area continues to be a vibrant drug trafficking corridor.
Anonymous anti-narcotics officials and military reports consulted by El Heraldo document that drug traffickers in this zone not only exercise control over local residents, but also soldiers and military officials.
In exchange for the unmolested passage of drug shipments, traffickers offer military personnel incentives in the form of cash payments, as well as access to social events and pre-paid prostitutes. For instance, traffickers pay up to $100,000 per plane to avoid radar detection, and $65,000 so officials do not scramble jets to intercept drug flights, reported El Heraldo.
In one case from 2011 documented by El Heraldo, an undercover anti-narcotics team consisting of foreigners offered a rear admiral $200,000 to allow a drug shipment to pass. The official accepted the offer.
Payments for military officials to simply abandon a zone, however, are reportedly higher.
One official recounted how he was removed from La Mosquitia after receiving an anonymous phone message regarding payment of $350,000 to leave his sector. The official reported the conversation to the head of Honduras’ inter-institutional security force (Fuerza Nacional de Seguridad Interinstitucional – FUSINA) in the Gracias a Dios department, part of the La Mosquitia region. Soon after, however, he was ordered to leave the zone immediately by a brigadier general.
That same official said he was later falsely incriminated for accepting payments from a known drug trafficker.
Beyond turning a blind eye, military officials in La Mosquitia also allegedly provide weapons and relay instructions and orders to drug traffickers. Sources consulted by El Heraldo, however, assured that official collusion in La Mosquitia does not just involve military personnel, but also police, judges, prosecutors, and political elites.
InSight Crime Analysis
The remoteness of Honduras’ La Mosquitia region makes it prime real estate for traffickers moving South American drugs through Central America en route to the United States and Europe. Previously, however, Honduran officials have claimed drug flights into the region — many of which originate from Venezuela — have been all but eliminated due to improved anti-narcotics efforts.
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Currently, there has been much focus on reforming Honduras’ notoriously corrupt police force — a process which has been praised for making progress. Yet reports like those by El Heraldo suggest gains remain to be made in eradicating the involvement of Honduran military personnel in drug trafficking as well.
Fortunately, recent developments leave cause for optimism that Honduras may be moving in the right direction on this issue, although progress appears to be spurred by US efforts in sniffing out military corruption. That is, on October 7, the United States announced a number of individuals were under investigation for allegedly belonging to the Atlantic Cartel, which operates in La Mosquitia. This included Honduras Army Captain Santos Orlando Rodríguez Orellana, who was subsequently dismissed from active service “in a dishonorable manner.”
Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, the brother of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, is another “person of interest” in the high-profile drug investigation — he traveled to the United States on October 25 to speak with US officials regarding the drug investigation, and is now back in Honduras.