The department of La Paz does not house any major transnational criminal economies or established criminal actors.
Congress representatives for the department have faced accusations of corruption and money laundering. Some members of the security forces are linked to criminal networks. State actors have allegedly used violence against political and indigenous activists, according to complaints by community-level organizations.
Corrupt Politicians: The incumbent National Party of Honduras has colluded with organized crime in various parts of the country. The vice-president of congress and representative for La Paz, Gladis Aurora López, is an example of this. López, along with her relatives, owns hydroelectric plants in the municipalities of San Juan and Santa Elena.
Indigenous communities in this area have protested the construction of these projects, arguing authorities never consulted them. López is also named in two corruption cases related to embezzlement – Pandora and Arca Abierta – led by the country’s Attorney General’s Office. In La Paz, money destined for agricultural projects was allegedly embezzled by López and other officials.
Arms Trafficking: No major criminal groups are present in the department, and La Paz has one of the country’s lowest homicide rates. Therefore, we estimate that there is not a significant arms trafficking economy in the department.
Cocaine: In 2019, authorities seized just 32.5 grams of cocaine in La Paz. Larger cocaine shipments likely pass through the department without being detected by authorities, as La Paz lies on a minor cocaine smuggling route connecting El Salvador and western Honduras. However, cocaine trafficking is no relevant if compared to the major drug-smuggling corridors in northern Honduras.
Cannabis: Cannabis consumption is moderate in the border town of Marcala, where local gangs sell the drug. In 2019, Honduran police seized 6.5kg of marijuana in the department of La Paz and eradicated over 100 cannabis plants. Some cannabis is trafficked between La Paz and El Salvador.
Environmental Crime: La Paz is home to seven species of pine. Deforestation is a persistent problem in the department, and while some of the wood is for domestic use, some of it is trafficked illegally to other parts of the country. However, timber is only extracted in small quantities from La Paz’s woodland, and, therefore, the related criminal earnings are not significant. Nevertheless, there are cases of corruption linked to environmental crime. The military has allegedly been involved in protecting illegal shipments of wood that are transported in lorries to El Salvador, where it is sold at a higher price. Timber trafficking also occurs in areas where hydroelectric plants are being built, some of which have been linked to politicians accused of corruption, such as Gladis Aurora López.
Human Trafficking: A minor migratory route passes through La Paz. However, human trafficking appears to be minimal.
Human Smuggling: La Paz is a transit point for migrants from El Salvador and the starting point for Honduran migrants making the journey to the United States or Spain. In 2019, 1,161 migrants returned to La Paz after being deported from the United States and Mexico. Given the price of hiring a smuggler from the area (roughly $10,000), this appears to be a lucrative economy, reaching into the tens of millions of dollars. Additionally, there have been at least five cases of families being extorted in the town of Marcala so that a relative traveling with a smuggler could safely reach the United States.
Extortion: There are minimal reported extortion cases in La Paz. In fact, La Paz has one of the lowest incidences of extortion in Honduras. However, in some cases, relatives of migrants traveling with human smugglers are asked to pay more money than the agreed fee so that the smuggled individuals can arrive safely in the United States.
Money Laundering: Héctor Iván Fiallos, a former congressman from the Liberal Party for the department of La Paz, was accused of money laundering in the 2018 Pandora corruption case.
Sources: This profile is based on one field trip to the municipality of Marcala (in La Paz) and three field trips to Tegucigalpa during which InSight Crime interviewed representatives of the Attorney General’s Office, representatives of the Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), military officers, national and local police officers, officials from Honduras’ Independent Forestry Monitor (MFI), local authorities working in Marcala’s townhall, and indigenous activists, most of whom requested anonymity. InSight Crime also drew from information provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), judicial reports by the MACCIH and the Attorney General’s Office, the Honduran National Police, the Honduran National Institute for Statistics, and the local press.