Monday, October 6, 2014

The Organization of the Honduran Drug Trade (Part 1 of 3)

On August 20th of this year the Valle Valle family of western Honduras was named by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control  as "significant drug traffickers" under the Kingpin Act. This weekend, members of the family were captured in Honduras.

In the August statement, the US named Miguel Arnulfo Valle Valle and his brothers Luis Alonso and Jose Reynerio Valle Valle. Not included was their youngest brother, Jose Inocente Valle Valle. 

A UN report from September 2012 on the drug trade in Central America provides a context for understanding these developments. The UN identified three groups of actors in Honduras that are at least tangentially involved in the drug trade, and how each of these groups relates to violence.

First are the territorially based organized crime groups.  These impose order where the state government lacks control, offering security and protection in both city neighborhoods and the countryside.  They require an enforcement organization, and there must be a clear chain of command, often family based:
These territory-bound groups are intensely concerned with local affairs, and this limits the scope of what they can do. They can demand tribute (extortion), give credit at usurious rates (loan sharking), and dictate local employment conditions (labour racketeering) within their zones of influence. With their money and community standing, they can even affect voting outcomes and wield considerable political clout. They may move into high-level corruption, such as public procurement fraud. Once secure in their status as political patrons, they can engage in acquisitive crime at will, selling stolen property and smuggled goods with impunity.

The UN report goes on to say these groups often have to fight with rival outfits for control of contested territory, and this means they spend an "undue amount of time addressing symbolic infractions, sending messages to their constituencies about who is in control."

What this means is that they control the wholesale traffic through their region, and this often can include drugs as one of the sorts of contraband that flow this way.  They then subcontract risk, such as local distribution, to others. In Central America, because of these groups' geographic control, international drug trafficking is under their command.

These crime families are not interested in stirring up violence as part of their drug trafficking. Traffickers generally are interested in keeping the violence down and not drawing attention to themselves.  Thus they operate in remote areas with little state control.

The Valle Valle family fits this part of the UN model.

The US government alleges the Valle Valle family runs a business that moves thousands of kilograms of cocaine each month towards the United States, laundering the money generated through three coffee-producing companies (Inversiones Yosary, Inversiones Luisito, and Inversiones Valle), a cattle and dairy business (Finca Los Tres Reyes), and a hotel in La Entrada, Copan.

According to the US, the Valle family operates a drug business in the Honduran Department of Copan, in the municipality of Florida, Copan, along the Honduras/Guatemala border.  Here there are several legitimate border crossings, and other blind crossings between Honduras and Guatemala.  Florida is adjacent to the town of El Paraiso, Copan, where the Alex cartel, linked to the Sinaloa cartel, operates.

Once the Valle Valle brothers and their businesses were designated as "significant drug traffickers" by OFAC, the Honduran government in association with the US Drug Enforcement Agency confiscated their businesses, houses, bank accounts, hotels, and in the process located arms caches buried on one of their properties. However, the family had been tipped off, and their houses had been largely emptied of all possessions, just as other such operations have been leaked to the families about to be pounced on by the Honduran police and the DEA.

On October 3, Honduran security forces captured Jose Inocente Valle Valle in El Porvenir, Florida, Copan, about 30 minutes drive from the Guatemalan border,  and confiscated a gold plated AK-47,  many pistols of different calibers and over 600 rounds of ammunition.  Also confiscated was a picture of Jose Inocente with his arm around the former head of the Transit Police in Copan, Neptaly Aguilar Rivera.  Among his other possessions when captured was a belt containing 12 solid gold coins stamped "Sinaloa".

Sunday, the Honduran police captured two more brothers (Miguel Arnulfo and Luis Alonso) in El Espiritu, Copan, only a five minute drive from the Guatemalan border.

The Valle Valle family was  allegedly responsible for getting drugs from Honduras across the border to the right people in Guatemala, making up what the UN called a territorially based organized crime group. There others took over-- something we cover in the next installment of this series.

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