Two brothers -- longtime political powerbrokers in a northeastern region of Honduras that is a major maritime and aerial drug route -- have been arrested in a case that exposes further ties between the country’s traffickers and politicians.
Roberto and Seth Paisano Wood were taken in a joint operation between the Attorney General’s Office and anti-drug authorities in northern Honduras, La Prensa reported. The operation, according to the Attorney General’s Office, stemmed from an investigation into traffickers based in Gracias a Dios department -- which lies along the country’s Atlantic coast and is a hotspot for cocaine smuggling.
The brothers face money laundering charges and have been jailed while the investigation continues. Authorities also seized nine properties, five companies and nine boats in the operation, but it was unclear whether the assets belonged to the brothers.
The brothers are part of a powerful political family in Gracias a Dios. Roberto has long been an operator in the National Party, while Seth was a congressman for the Liberal Party.
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profile
Gracias a Dios is part of La Mosquitia, a region of dense tropical forest in northeast Honduras that has served as a major cocaine smuggling pipeline for the past two decades.
The investigation into the region’s network of traffickers and politicians began in 2014, when the Honduran army deployed an inter-institutional unit to La Mosquitia to stop cocaine smuggling and perform intelligence operations, with the assistance of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The operations led to the arrests of Atlantic Cartel leader Wilter Neptalí Blanco, and later his right-hand man José Emilio Arrechavala. Arrechavala was the head of a family clan with links to the Paisano Wood brothers, according to a Honduran navy official and former prosecutor consulted by InSight Crime who participated in operations in La Mosquitia between 2014 and 2016.
Blanco was arrested in Costa Rica in 2016 and extradited to the United States, where he later pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges. It was during the investigation into Blanco that the Honduran president’s brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, was first named as a person of interest in a major drug trafficking investigation. Hernández was convicted in a US court in October on drug trafficking charges.
InSight Crime Analysis
The recent money laundering charges, documents from investigations dating back to 2014 -- some of which InSight Crime had access to -- and interviews conducted in La Mosquitia and Tegucigalpa all indicate that the Paisano Wood brothers are likely part of an extensive organized crime network that has controlled cocaine trafficking in this region of Honduras since the early 2000s.
The northern part of Gracias a Dios borders the Caribbean. Its remote coasts and small islands are home to both small-scale and industrial fishing, which provide the perfect cover for the movement of cocaine to the Mexican and Guatemalan coasts.
The western part of Gracias a Dios borders Colón and Olancho departments, long dominated by the Cachiros drug trafficking clan. The region’s jungles and mountains have also served as cover for clandestine airstrips for drug flights.
This corner of northeastern Honduras has been one of the most important pieces in the drug trafficking landscape during the last two decades. In 2011, about 60 percent of the drugs sourced in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador were smuggled along the shores of La Mosquitia or through the mountains of Olancho, according to DEA maps published by the US State Department.
The groups that controlled portions of the drug route included the Chachiros, the Amador in Olancho, and the Atlantic Cartel in La Mosquitia. They worked like a federation, each respecting the other’s territory. In all of these regions, it was essential to have local political powerbrokers facilitating the movement of drugs.
In La Mosquitia, according to investigations, the relationship between drug trafficking and political power was through party heads like the Paisano Wood brothers.