HomeNewsAnalysisWhat’s Behind Honduras’ Arrest of ‘Narco’ Politician
ANALYSIS

What's Behind Honduras' Arrest of 'Narco' Politician

ELITES AND CRIME / 13 MAR 2015 BY DAVID GAGNE AND KYRA GURNEY EN

Honduran authorities have captured an alleged drug trafficker blacklisted by the US Treasury Department, whose links to the country's political establishment illustrate how organized crime is quietly attempting to infiltrate Honduran politics. 

On March 12, Honduran police arrested Jose Miguel "Chepe" Handal Perez in the city of San Pedro Sula while he was visiting his father at a medical clinic, reported La Prensa. Upon realizing police had cornered him, Handal fled to his luxury vehicle before deciding to voluntarily hand himself in to the authorities, reported La Tribuna.

Handal was arrested on drug trafficking charges, and President Juan Orlando Hernandez stated that he will be tried by the Honduran justice system, rather than being extradited to the United States. 

The US Treasury Department named Handal on its "Kingpin" list in April 2013, while he was campaigning for a congressional seat. Members of Handal's family, as well as several of his businesses, were also added to the list. 

Handal had also been indicted by the US District Court in the Southern District of Florida in 2011 for drug trafficking (download the indictment here). 

InSight Crime Analysis

The impunity that Handal enjoyed in Honduras between his 2011 US indictment and his recent arrest could be interpreted as one sign that he was receiving significant political protection. Handal ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2013 as a candidate for one of Honduras' most established political parties, the Liberal Party, despite accusations by the US that he allegedly served as the head of a criminal organization that acts as an intermediary between Colombian and Mexican drug traffickers.

Handal’s case is also significant because he was the first of a series of alleged Honduran drug traffickers to be named to the Treasury's “Kingpin” list in recent years. Faced with high levels of impunity in Honduras, the US Treasury Department began to blacklist alleged transnational drug traffickers as a means of pressuring the Honduran government. In some ways, it could be described as a "naming and shaming" approach, one that shone a spotlight on the top-level drug traffickers in the Central American country. 

Since then, numerous US-designated drug kingpins have been captured in Honduras, and by October 2014 nearly half of the Honduran traffickers wanted by the US were in custody. In many ways, Handal's designation by the Treasury department was the first push that later caused so many seemingly invulnerable drug traffickers to fall. 

SEE ALSO:Honduras News and Profiles

It would be unusual if Handal is prosecuted in Honduras, rather than in the US, as up until now many of the country’s most prominent drug traffickers -- such as the leaders of the Valle Valle drug clan or the Cachiros -- have been extradited to the US. Like Handal, they were once considered untouchable due to their high-level connections in political and business circles in Honduras. It is worth speculating whether information provided to the US authorities by the leaders of the Valle drug clan and the Cachiros helped lead to Handal's capture. In any case, the tightening net around Honduras' top drug traffickers could well be making other political and economic elites in the country very nervous. 

Even as Honduras continues to register significant successes in pursuing transnational drug traffickers, the country still faces serious problems when it comes to improving citizen security, as well as its justice and penal systems. One recent attempt by the security forces to transfer imprisoned gang leaders to a higher-security prison sparked a riot that left at least 35 inmates injured and three dead. 

Below, the US Treasury Department's chart of Chepe Handal's criminal network.

Handal

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

HONDURAS / 26 NOV 2012

Honduran officials dismantled a network involved in synthetic drug production that is reportedly linked to Mexico's…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 12 AUG 2011

Honduras is awash with weapons; a result of lax gun laws and a legacy of decades of civil conflict. The…

ELITES AND CRIME / 8 MAY 2014

The former interim governor of Mexico's southwest Pacific state of Michoacan has been sent to federal prison for alleged Knights…

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.