It was in 2012 that former Honduran congressman Fredy Renán Nájera Montoya agreed to provide Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa Cartel with the connections to traffic cocaine through Puerto Cortés, a large port on the Caribbean coast. Six years later, still a representative in good standing, he was extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking and weapons charges.
Najera's criminal exploits -- described in detail in a sentencing memorandum filed December 23 -- are of particular note. US prosecutors said he secured cocaine shipments in his home base of Olancho, connected Honduras’ main criminal groups and opened the Atlantic trafficking route, one of Central America's most important.
Audrey Strauss, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, wrote to the judge presiding over the case that “drug trafficking organizations have gained unprecedented power in Honduras with the support and direct participation of high-ranking politicians” such as Nájera.
Nájera served in Honduras’ National Congress for the Liberal Party from 2006 until his extradition in March 2018. He pleaded guilty that year to leading "large-scale and violent drug trafficking activities in the same part of Honduras that he represented in his government position," prosecutors said. Najera was one of the highest-ranking politicians targeted by US authorities at the time, and is scheduled for sentencing in March 2021.
According to prosecutors, Nájera united the three most significant drug trafficking groups operating at that time in Honduras: Wilter Blanco and the Atlantic Cartel in eastern Gracias a Dios department, the Cachiros criminal gang in neighboring Colón, and the Valles clan in Copán, along the western border with Guatemala.
Nájera received “multi-hundred-kilogram shipments of cocaine sent from Venezuela to Honduras” at the Catacamas airstrip that he “constructed, maintained, and staffed” in Olancho, according to the court filing.
He then facilitated transport to the Cachiros in neighboring Colón and the Valles in Copán, on the border with Guatemala. A Honduran trafficker aligned with Blanco and the Cachiros, Sergio Neftalí Mejía Duarte, alias “El Compa,” moved the cocaine through Honduras into Guatemala and eventually on to Mexico and the Sinaloa Cartel, with whom he worked exclusively.
Over the course of nearly seven years, between 2008 and 2015, Nájera trafficked some 20 tons of cocaine worth hundreds of millions of dollars into the United States.
InSight Crime Analysis
Nájera represents the highest levels of corrupt political power in Honduras, using his connections among influential politicians and crime groups to secure drug shipments and provide traffickers with protection.
To be sure, he was at the nexus of narco-politics in Honduras. In 2012, he introduced Sinaloa Cartel members to Fabio Lobo -- the now-jailed son of former Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa -- and local politician Miguel Pastor Mejía at a meeting in the industrial hub of San Pedro Sula. Lobo and Pastor Mejía “agreed to provide the Sinaloa Cartel with unfettered access to Puerto Cortés for … drug trafficking in exchange for bribes,” according to the court filing.
The three men received almost half a million dollars in exchange, prosecutors said.
Nájera proved especially useful to the Sinaloa Cartel. He sidestepped joint efforts from local authorities and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to shoot down or intercept drug planes by switching to helicopters. Ranches he owned in Olancho served as landing pads for helicopters loaded with thousands of kilograms of cocaine. The Sinaloa Cartel paid him over $9 million for his services, according to the court filing.
As a congressman, he even secured $1 million from the Sinaloa Cartel for the 2013 presidential campaign of Yani Rosenthal, the powerful business tycoon representing the Liberal Party, according to the court filing. But Rosenthal did not gain the party's nomination, and Hernández came to power after winning the general election. Having recently completed a three-year prison sentence in the United States for laundering drug money, Rosenthal is again running for president on behalf of the opposition in 2021.
Nájera also sought out allies on the other side of the aisle to shore up his criminal operation. In one 2014 meeting cited by prosecutors, he met with traffickers from the Cachiros and then-congressman Midence Oquelí Martínez Turcios -- charged in the United States on drug trafficking charges -- to discuss seeking “favorable treatment and protection from the recently elected Honduran president,” Juan Orlando Hernández.
Nájera’s luck eventually ran out. But current conditions suggest he won’t be the last politician to leverage powerful connections to control key trafficking routes as cocaine continues to flood through Honduras.
Arresting drug traffickers is not enough if the politicians who protect them are not also targeted, US Attorney Strauss said in Nájera's sentencing memorandum.
“Drug traffickers will be replaced and [Nájera’s] co-conspirators likely already have been," she wrote. "What must be targeted is the political and structural support provided to drug traffickers in countries like Honduras that allows drug traffickers to flourish at monumental levels."