The alleged leader of one of Honduras' largest drug trafficking groups, the Cachiros, is in US custody, which may spell trouble for some high-level Honduran politicians and business elites with links to the country's criminal underworld.
On January 31, Honduran media reports indicated that Javier Eriberto Rivera Maradiaga, alias "Javier Cachiro," may have handed himself in to authorities at the US Embassy in capital city Tegucigalpa early last week. Following the reports, a high-level US government source confirmed to InSight Crime Rivera Maradiaga was in US custody.
Rivera Maradiaga appeared in the Southern District of Florida courthouse on January 26, where he pleaded not guilty to charges of drug trafficking. The Florida court indicted Rivera Maradiaga in December 2013 for distributing a Schedule II controlled substance -- including at least five kilograms of a substance which contained cocaine -- between 2008 and 2013 that Rivera Maradiaga knew was intended to illegaly enter the United States. The indictment against Rivera Maradiaga was unsealed following his recent arrest.
In September 2013, the US Treasury Department placed Rivera Maradiaga at the top of drug trafficking group the Cachiros, alongside his brother, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga (see image below). Following this designation, Honduran authorities seized between $500 million and $800 million in properties belonging to the Cachiros.
Based in the northeast province of Colon, the Cachiros -- who have a net worth of close to $1 billion -- are thought to buy cocaine from Colombian drug trafficking groups and later sell it to Mexican groups like the Sinaloa Cartel.
InSight Crime Analysis
Now that Rivera Maradiaga is in US custody, he will likely cooperate with US authorities by giving them information on other criminal actors in exchange for a reduced prison sentence or other benefits. This will probably make some political and business elites in Honduras nervous, given the well-placed connections the Cachiros reportedly have within the upper circles of Honduran society. In addition to reportedly owning a soccer team in Colon, the Cachiros have a mining business and political contacts on the local and national level.
Their high-level connections are probably a significant reason Honduran officials have shown little initiative in going after the Cachiros, despite pressure from the United States. Notably, Rivera Maradiaga's arrest -- the first capture of a leader of the Cachiros -- does not appear to have involved Honduran authorities.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Cachiros
If Rivera Maradiaga describes the ties between organized crime and influential Honduran powerbrokers as part of a potential plea deal, that would put the United States in an awkward position diplomatically. The United States has worked closely with the Honduran government to improve the security situation in the country, which is among the most violent in Latin America. The US ambassador to Honduras recently lauded the country's progress in reducing the amount of drugs passing through the country, thanks to US support. US authorities have also conducted joint operations with Honduran security forces to capture a number of high-profile drug traffickers in the past year.
Any implication of wrong-doing by prominent Honduran officials would force the United States to either re-evaluate their security assistance programs to Honduras, or agree to work with alleged criminals in order to serve US interests.
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles
The relative indifference shown by Honduran authorities in capturing the Cachiros is in contrast to their recent dismantling of another major drug trafficking family -- the Valles. In the past six months, the Valles went from being Honduras' biggest "transportista" group -- a reference to their role in transporting and protecting drug shipments on behalf of other cartels -- to seeing their top three leaders arrested and extradited to the United States. It remains uncertain if Rivera Maradiaga's arrest is the beginning of a similar precipitous decline for the Cachiros.
With Rivera Maradiaga and the heads of the Valles in US custody, authorities are probably going to have a much better understanding of how Honduran drug trafficking networks operate than they did at this time last year. This is a boon for US officials in their ongoing fight to combat transnational drug trafficking, but could provoke concern for the Honduran elites who have discreet connections to these criminal groups.