Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Organization of the Honduran Drug Trade (Part 2 of 3)

In the first installement of this series, we illustrated what a September 2012 UN report called a territorially-based crime group in Central America, with a discussion of the recently arrested Valle Valle family.

The second kind of criminal group identified by the UN are the transnational trafficking networks, or transportistas.  Transportistas work like a legitimately subcontracted transportation company.  Their relationship to suppliers is contractual, but they are free to work with anyone.  They move drugs between point A and point B where A and B are frequently under the control of territorial crime families.

They don't seek violence, and indeed seek to remain unnoticed.

The Chepe Handal organization was described as a transportista organization when it was dismantled.  Chepe Handal allegedly moved drugs for the Cartel del Pacifico from the departments of Colon, Atlantida, and Cortes, to the border region with Guatemala.

While the organized crime family where the Chepe Handal organization picked up the drugs remains publicly unidentified, the newly arrested Valle Valle family control the area where the Handal organization allegedly brought drugs to smuggle across the Honduras/Guatemala border.

Transportistas need to be crime families with established ties into politics and participating in the corruption of government officials, and Handal's organization fits that description.  It was large and diversified.  It owned hotels, a zoo, construction companies, retail stores in San Pedro Sula, and transportation companies.  Chepe Handal also bred thoroughbred horses.
While many of the Honduran border area crime families go unidentified, across the border in Guatemala territory is said to be under the control of the Mendoza crime family.  They have extensive land holdings along the whole border in ranches and agricultural production.  They also own hotels, gas stations, construction companies, and transportation companies, and move cocaine from the border region into the Peten.  That makes them an example of a transportista group.

But they simultaneously fit the description of a territorial group: they are now allied with the Lorenzana family of Guatemala, that controls the border territory of Zacapa in Guatemala.  Together they control much of the Honduras/Guatemala border, from the Caribbean inland to Ocotepeque in far southwest Honduras.

Another Honduran example of an alleged organized crime family would be the Arnaldo Urbina Soto family, arrested in July. The head of the family is the alcalde (mayor) of Yoro. One of his daughters, also arrested, was the head of the Honduran Congressional committee on children.

The Urbina Soto family is alleged to have participated in drug trafficking, 137 murders, car theft, building landing strips for drug planes, and the forced displacement of people. They owned large cattle ranches in Yoro, many houses described as "mansions", and ran an aviary that included ostriches.

While 137 murders might seem like a lot, in the context of some parts of Honduras, that's just a month's worth of homicides. Crime organizations need to keep their profile fairly low in order to succeed.  Murders need to be strategic and uninvestigated.

The Urbina Soto family most likely worked for the Zetas, who US sources say are headquartered in Santa Rita, Yoro. Their drugs are transported through the western Honduran Department of Santa Barbara and points south, reaching the Guatemalan border near Ocotepeque, with a handoff to the Lorenzana family in Guatemala.

Diana Patricia Urbina Soto, a National Party Congressperson from Yoro when arrested, was later released.  Her political visibility produced an unusual piece of information: she answered the question posed to congress members "Are you in favor of, or against the legalization of drugs?" by saying "In favor, in this way it will reduce the violence and control the consumption".

Given the UN analysis, that might well be how a member of one of these crime families views things. Drug trafficking is a business; they provide security and governance to otherwise ungoverned territories. Violence is not their main goal; when it happens, it is a side effect of cartel struggles or is specially targeted.


Jeff said...

It looks like the line from Diana Patricia Urbina Soto about legalization was prefabricated, maybe by Renacer Democrático for pro-legalization candidates or maybe as part of a Likert item in a survey that they responded to. Apparently all the candidates tagged as pro-legalization have the same response:


Thanks for this series of posts. Very interesting stuff.

RNS said...

As the linked article notes, this quote was in response to a pre-election survey of all candidates for Congress.