As I was writing the previous three posts outlining what is known about the Honduran side of the drug trade, the Guatemalan newspaper, El Periodico, was reporting on the Guatemalan connections of the Valle Valle family. The central focus in Guatemala is on José Manuel Lopez Morales, alias El Ché, a drug trafficker identified by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as the main Valle Valle connection in Guatemala.
On September 27, 2014, Guatemalan security forces and the DEA raided a variety of homes and businesses in Chiquimula, Guatemala, looking for José Manuel Lopez Morales. Lopez Morales, they contend, is linked to a number of other known drug traffickers and transportistas believed to control the drug trade from along the Honduran border into Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador. The raids failed to capture Lopez Morales, although they did capture both his wife, Deidy Gisleny Nufio Franco, and one of his bodyguards.
Lopez Morales is the nephew of the mayor of Chiquimula, Mario Rolando Lemus Martinez, whom the DEA has identified as being in charge of the logistics of the drug trade in the region. Lopez Morales is also alleged by the DEA to be the godson of an unnamed town official in San Jose La Arada, near Chiquimula. In addition, Lopez Morales has benefited from the political support of the Mayor of Concepcion, Las Minas, Juan Banegas. In the communities around Chiqiumula, El Periodico reports that Lopez Morales is said to be helpful in funding social projects, and this includes having the arena in San Jose Ermita named after him. Further, Lopez Morales was connected with the owner of a bus line that runs from the Honduran border crossing near Ocotepeque, Honduras, to Quezaltepeque, Guatemala. That bus line is said to have hidden caches in the buses where drugs are smuggled within Guatemala.
Without looking at a map, its not immediately evident that these towns named above are all strategically located for the transhipment of drugs from Honduras into Guatemala and El Salvador. San Jose Ermita is located along the road between Copan Ruinas, in Honduras, and Chiquimula. San Jose La Arada is located along the route from Chiquimula to El Salvador, passing through the Ipala region. Concepcion Las Minas is near Esquipulas, on the border of a large forest preserve along a highway that leads into El Salvador. Quezaltepeque is located along the road that runs from Ocotepeque, Honduras, further into Guatemala, or over into El Salvador.
El Periodico reported that some in Guatemala believe the Valle
Valle family articulated with the Cartel de Ipala, who run the drug
trade in Guatemala's Jutiapa Department, along the Salvadoran border,
but the Guatemalan Interior Minister, Mauricio López Bonilla, in a
recent statement to the press indicated that Lopez Morales was the Valle
Valle family's contact in Guatemala.
Lopez Morales reportedly escaped the DEA raid by hiding in one of 10 ambulances seen cruising the roads around Chiquimula all day with their sirens on; an unusual sight. Because they had their sirens on, they were not detained by the police roadblocks, and Lopez Morales escaped. He's said to have gone to the owner of the bus company mentioned above to have himself smuggled into Honduras.
While what El Periodico reports is sketchy, what they seem to be reporting is a Guatemalan crime family with ties to one or more transportista families. The article briefly mentions cartels in adjacent parts of Guatemala. The Ipala cartel tranships drugs from El Salvador into Mexico's Pacific Coast, and moves some drugs from Guatemala into El Salvador. The Rodriguez cartel, mentioned as controlling the drug trade around Bodegas and Zacapa, moves drugs into Belize and the Guatemalan Peten.
What's beginning to emerge in both Guatemala and Honduras is an image of a number of small, territorial families linked to moving drugs from specific counterparts further along the path to the United States. As drug interdiction succeeds in Honduras, there will be smaller and smaller amounts to move, leading to competition and consolidation of these crime families. This particular network works for the Cartel del Pacifico (formerly the Sinaloa Cartel).
Stay tuned for even more violence.