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.
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
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
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
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.