By Rene Novoa / ISH
July 4th, 2014 (ISH) Organized crime groups are using Honduras to produce and process narcotics, according to National Police spokesperson Julián Hernández.
“Investigations have revealed that international cartels are extending their illicit operations in Honduras to the cultivation of opium poppy,” Hernández said. “Drug traffickers use remote areas of the country where gangs and other criminal groups cultivate and process the opium in exchange for drugs, money and weapons.”
On Jan. 31, authorities destroyed a sophisticated greenhouse installation containing 1,800 opium and 800 marijuana plants in Cerro La Cumbre, in Lempira department’s La Iguala municipality, about 400 kilometers west of Tegucigalpa.
It’s the second time opium crops – the plant used to manufacture heroin – have been found in Central America after 65,000 plants were found in the northern Guatemalan department of Petén in March 2011, according to Hernández.
In the La Iguala case, Colombian Rubén Darío Pinilla, 36, and Honduran Jester Miranda, 24, were sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted of drug cultivation and trafficking, according to Melvin Duarte, a spokesperson for the Supreme Court of Justice.
Afghanistan is the world’s biggest opium producer, with 75% of world production, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime World Drug Report 2013. Burma is the next biggest worldwide producer, while Latin America’s biggest producer is Mexico.
The fight against narcotics in Mexico and Colombia forced cartels to seek other countries in which to continue their illicit activities, according to former Honduran Police Commissioner María Luisa Borjas, who now works as a security analyst.
“In recent years, Mexico and Colombia have been strengthening their position with technology and professional training for investigators, which has forced organized crime groups to look for other countries in which to continue their illegal activities,” she said.
Borjas is not surprised that cartels have transferred their operations to the Central American country.
“Honduras is a poor country, so the possibilities for investigation are few as there are no specialists. It’s hard to acquire up-to-date technology to help the fight against the cartels,” she added. “Additionally, some judges become corrupt, either for reasons of poverty or due to intimidation.”
Twenty judges were suspended for illicit enrichment related to organized crime between Nov. 18, 2013 and Jan. 17, 2014. Five were jailed, while the remaining 15 remain under investigation, according to Duarte.
“We urgently need judges who are assigned exclusively to cases involving suspected drug traffickers,” Borjas said. “[Additionally], the country must sign cooperation agreements with Mexico and Colombia so they can provide training for our military, police and investigation teams in the techniques they use against organized crime and terrorism.”
In February, authorities adopted further measures to prevent the spread of illicit cultivation by increasing internal security and the number of personnel patrolling the border areas, according to Col. Isaac Santos Aguilar, the head of the National Directorate for the Fight Against Drug Trafficking (DLCN).
One of the most significant of these measures is Operation Morazán, which has deployed 10,000 law enforcement officers nationwide since Feb. 11 to carry out air and land operations, with the goal of confiscating drugs, dismantling greenhouses and arresting drug traffickers.
“Honduras will not rest in its fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, and President Juan Orlando Hernández has demonstrated this by creating Operation Morazán, which is responsible for patrols and operations against the cartels,” Aguilar said.
Operation Morazán includes members and investigators of the National Police, Armed Forces, Public Ministry and the Supreme Court of Justice.
From February to June 5, the operation confiscated 4,000 kilograms of cocaine and marijuana, according to Aguilar.
In total, 7,000 kilograms of drugs were seized in Honduras between January and June 5, after 21,000 kilograms of cocaine and marijuana were confiscated all of last year, according to the DLCN.
Gen. John Kelly, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, recently highlighted the efforts being made by Honduran authorities to combat drug trafficking.
“The results are significant, especially regarding drug traffic control in the coastal areas,” he said during a visit to Honduras to meet with Hernández on June 3.
Hernández is seeking citizens’ support in the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking.
“We are asking citizens to collaborate by providing information that will help us combat organized crime and bring peace back to the country,” he said.