Operations against transnational drug trafficking groups which have done so in the past has been a key component of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s anti-drug strategy.
“Honduras was the primary transshipment country for South American cocaine being smuggled to the United States” before President Hernández took office in January 2014, U.S. Marine Corps General John F. Kelly, Commander of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), said in an interview with Honduran newspaper El Heraldo in May. “Now the country is hostile to those who would traffic in cocaine.”
“We are seizing their drugs, and the drug traffickers have felt the impact and have decided to alter their route. Now Honduras is no longer the number one country [for drug traffickers]; we have the fifth most drugs in the region coming through the country.”
The importance of cooperation
Gen. Kelly credited this significant improvement to “the incredible efforts led by President Hernández, his ministers, his Armed Forces, his police and the positive and effective cooperation between the United States Southern Command and Honduras.”
Honduras and other Central American and Caribbean countries are working in cooperation with the United States to fight international drug trafficking and other transnational criminal enterprises. For example, Honduras and the U.S. Military have joined forces to create an aerial shield in the form of sophisticated radar systems to track narco-flights to prevent drugs from passing through Honduras.
“With all these radar systems, we could see the traces of where they had been traveling, and now we are seeing that the traces from the air are significantly reduced, to the point that we can see almost nothing,” Gen. Kelly said.
Aerial, maritime, and ground operations have caused some criminal groups to use their drug trafficking routes less frequently, said Armando Rodríguez Luna, a security analyst at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
Operation MARTILLO curbs drug trafficking
Operation MARTILLO is the main maritime effort stopping drugs from reaching Honduras. In 2014, Operation MARTILLO prevented 158 metric tons of cocaine from entering the country, Gen. Kelly said.
Led by SOUTHCOM and comprised of Canada, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, Operation MARTILLO– is dedicated to impeding the activities of transnational criminal organizations and limiting their capacity to use the Central American isthmus as a transshipment point. Since mid-January 2012 when the operation was launched through April 2015, the Military has deployed boats and planes in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to fight drug trafficking. These efforts have resulted in the arrests of 400 people and the seizure of 600 tons of cocaine valued at approximately $8 billion.
Honduras, which covers 112,492 square kilometers, and has a population of approximately 5.8 million, “is no longer alone in its fight against drug trafficking; we are the only country that is connected to the United States at the highest level, as well as Colombia, Guatemala, and other nations,” Pres. Hernández said.
Honduran drug seizures increase
The aerial shield and Operation MARTILLO have helped Honduran security forces seize more drugs than ever.
From January 2014 to April 2015, Honduran Military and police authorities intercepted at least 48,111 kilograms of drugs, seized more than $12 million, and arrested 245 people related to drug trafficking activities, Salvadoran daily La Prensa Gráfica reported. Law enforcement officers also confiscated approximately 869 barrels of precursor chemicals used to produce highly addictive synthetic drugs.
In contrast, in 2013, Honduran Troops and law enforcement authorities seized approximately 17,000 kilograms of cocaine in several operations coordinated with the United States Coast Guard in the Caribbean.
Military and police authorities are continuing to conduct missions to stop drug traffickers from bringing cocaine and other illegal substances into the country. For example, since January 1, Honduran security forces have destroyed more than 100 clandestine landing strips used by drug trafficking groups to transport drugs on small airplanes into the country, and then to Mexico and the United States.
Many of the drug trafficking groups which operate in and near Honduras are Colombian. “Restructuring by Mexican criminal groups has caused Colombian groups to re-acquire greater control over shipment routes in Central America,” Rodríguez Luna said.
Colombian gangs prefer to operate in the Caribbean region. For shipping routes, they first use the Gulfs of Venezuela and Panama, then the Caribbean or the Atlantic coast of Central America to get to Belize and Guatemala, and lastly Mexico along the Pacific route.
Violent death rate drops
The success that Honduran security forces have achieved in fighting international drug trafficking has improved the country’s public safety. “We were at 87 (killings) per 100,000 persons, and now we are at 66 and it continues to decline,” President Hernández said on April 27.
About 90 percent of all deaths in Honduras are drug-related, according to government figures, but the number of these killings has decreased dramatically in recent years thanks to the Honduran anti-drug trafficking strategy, which has diminished the activities of organized crime groups.
“The decrease in the murder rate is a success, above all because the violent conditions associated with gangs and the presence of criminal groups continue to be absent,” Rodríguez Luna said.
Progress in fighting crime
Lowering the number of killings and improving public safety is a collaborative effort. The country’s anti-crime strategy, the establishment of the National Council on Defense and Security, and good work by the National Inter-Institutional Security Force (FUSINA) have all led to positive results in the fight against drug trafficking, which in turn has helped lower the rate of violence.
“The world is realizing that we are progressing. The country is beginning to breathe again and recover its freedom,” President Hernández said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Marine Corps will continue to help ameliorate the problems that drug trafficking has wreaked in the country. “The U.S. troops are going to help us build new educational centers, health care centers, and they will probably assist in the construction of the Mosquitia Agricultural University,” said President Hernández, according to the website Infodefensa .