HomeNewsAnalysisUS Report Shows Revitalized Central America Cocaine Corridor
ANALYSIS

US Report Shows Revitalized Central America Cocaine Corridor

BELIZE / 9 MAR 2017 BY HÉCTOR SILVA ÁVALOS EN

The US State Department named seven Central American countries as havens for laundering the proceeds of drug trafficking and organized crime, and described the region as a main cocaine corridor for US markets, confirming the importance of Central America in the international drug trade.

This is the first time since 2013 that the State Department has included Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama together in the list of primary money laundering countries that forms part of its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR).

An important development in the 2017 INSCR -- which refers to trends and statistics from the previous year -- is that El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have re-entered the list of "major money laundering countries," which the State Department defines as those "whose financial institutions engage in currency transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from international narcotics trafficking." 

The INCSR explains that one of the main difficulties faced by Central American countries in combating money laundering is that their criminal investigation systems do not have the ability to trace money associated with drug trafficking or other types of criminal transactions. These include human or arms trafficking, or legal activities that are increasingly being used for money laundering, such as hosting high-level musical concerts or betting on popular sports.

The United States considers Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador -- the latter dollarized since 2001 -- important financial centers where most money laundering occurs through banks.

The case of Honduras is illustrative of the relationship between state agents and local crime syndicates.

According to the report, "Honduras is not a major financial center. Here, money laundering is mainly generated by traffic throughout the region. The trafficking of undocumented people to the United States, extortion, kidnapping and public corruption also generate significant amounts of money to be laundered."

Something similar, according to the report, is happening in Nicaragua.

The report also reiterates that from the jungles of Panama's Darien region on the border with Colombia, to the Usumacinta River and the jungles of Petén in northern Guatemala, cocaine continues to flow freely by way of air, land and water.

According to the INCSR, some 1,000 tons of cocaine were transported last year through Guatemala. This figure could be much higher if we take into account that, according to InSight Crime, Colombia, the main coca producing country in the world, transported about 1,350 tons of cocaine last year.

Additionally, record opium poppy production numbers were recorded last year in Guatemala, presumably to supply the growing demand for heroin in the United States. In 2016, the Guatemalan government destroyed 17 million poppy plants.

In Guatemala, and to a lesser extent in Honduras, there was an increase in the traffic of chemical precursors used to convert opium poppy into heroin, but also in those used to convert coca leaves into cocaine hydrochloride.

InSight Crime Analysis

The figures published by the United States reveal a fact that seems obvious, but that is sometimes obscured by the dynamics of violence in Central America, especially in the Northern Triangle region: Drug trafficking, as well as much of the state corruption that protects traffickers, continues to be the main driver of flourishing criminal economies in the Central American isthmus.

SEE ALSO: Defining a Mafia State: The Case of Guatemala

Since the middle of the last decade, Central American drug traffickers have evolved from being simple "transporters" who collected cocaine from Colombia at the porous borders of Costa Rica and Panama to then move it on to Guatemala. These groups have begun to diversify their criminal enterprises.

Traditional groups such as the Lorenzanas in Guatemala, the Matta Ballesteros network in Honduras and the Perrones in El Salvador have joined up with more specialized money laundering groups. One of these is El Salvador's Cartel de Texis, whose leader, José Adán Salazar Umaña, holds a White House designation as an international drug kingpin and has been investigated by the Attorney General of El Salvador for money laundering.

However, the Honduran case best illustrates how criminal actors in the drug trade permeated the political ranks of these countries and, as InSight Crime has pointed out, received favors and protection from them.

Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, the former leader of the Cachiros in Honduras, recently accused former President Porfirio Lobo of having received bribes from his group, something that the politician has been quick to deny. In El Salvador, drug trafficking groups have made similar accusations: Perrones operators have also said they paid bribes to former President Antonio Saca, who is currently being held on corruption charges.

SEE ALSO: The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

Guatemala remains, however, the crown jewel in the Central American drug trafficking landscape. Last month, the United States accused former President Roxana Baldetti and former Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla of conspiring to ship cocaine into the United States.

The State Department report has once again highlighted the revitalization of Central America's narco-trafficking corridor, which had reached one of its last peaks in mid-2009 after a military coup in Honduras helped open the air route between that country and Venezuela.

After that, US officials and analysts talked about the possibility of a resurgence of Caribbean drug routes, but that did not happen, at least not in the same way that it happened in Central America.

Today, due to an increase in coca production in Colombia and the infiltration of criminal groups at the highest levels of political power, especially in the Northern Triangle, it is clear that entry and exit avenues for drugs and illicit money are working at full throttle.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

CONTRABAND / 7 OCT 2014

Every day, enormous handmade rafts cross the Suchiate river, located in the municipality of Ayutla in Guatemala's San Marcos province,…

GUATEMALA / 17 JUN 2011

A profile from the Guatemalan online news site Plaza Publica of a flamboyant former mayor from north Guatemala,…

ELITES AND CRIME / 27 JUN 2016

A formidable combination of weak state institutions, powerful economic elites and high-level corruption has kept tax rates exceedingly low for…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Unraveling the Web of Elites Connected to Organized Crime

27 JUL 2021

InSight Crime published Elites and Organized Crime in Nicaragua, a deep dive into the relationships between criminal actors and elites in that Central American nation.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime’s Greater Focus on US-Mexico Border

20 JUL 2021

InSight Crime has decided to turn many of its investigative resources towards understanding and chronicling the criminal dynamics along the US-Mexico border.

THE ORGANIZATION

Key Arrests and Police Budget Increases Due to InSight Crime Investigations

8 JUL 2021

With Memo Fantasma’s arrest, InSight Crime has proven that our investigations can and will uncover major criminal threats in the Americas.

THE ORGANIZATION

Organized Crime’s Influence on Gender-Based Violence

30 JUN 2021

InSight Crime investigator Laura N. Ávila spoke on organized crime and gender-based violence at the launch of a research project by the United Nations Development Programme.

THE ORGANIZATION

Conversation with Paraguay Judicial Operators on PCC

24 JUN 2021

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley formed part of a panel attended by over 500 students, all of whom work in Paraguay's judicial system.