The alleged head of one of the most powerful drug trafficking groups in Honduras has been captured in Costa Rica and will reportedly be extradited to the United States, where he could reveal information about the involvement of the Honduran military and elites in the drug trade.
Wilter Neptalí Blanco Ruíz, the purported leader of the Atlantic Cartel, was detained on November 22 near the Costa Rican capital San José. US Ambassador to Honduras James Nealon stated that Costa Rican, Honduran and US authorities cooperated in the operation.
According to an unnamed source in the Honduran Attorney General’s Office consulted by El Heraldo, Blanco will be extradited directly to the United States from Costa Rica.
Blanco reportedly left Honduras in October after the US embassy announced that he and several other suspects were under investigation for drug trafficking and corruption. Less than two weeks later, a US federal court in Florida unsealed an indictment charging Blanco with cocaine trafficking.
It remains unclear why Blanco went to Costa Rica. Citing unspecified Costa Rican authorities, El Mundo reports that Blanco may have been using Costa Rica as a "base of operations." On the other hand, La Tribuna reports that the suspected drug kingpin was fleeing justice, and that he planned to continue on to Colombia.
In addition to the drug charges Blanco faces in the United States, he has also been charged in Honduras with money laundering.
Moreover, Blanco is suspected of masterminding the 2009 and 2011 killings of two top Honduran anti-drug officials. But despite police investigations that concluded he ordered the murders, he has not been formally charged in connection with those crimes.
InSight Crime Analysis
If Blanco is extradited to the United States, there is a substantial possibility that he will enter into an agreement with US authorities to provide them with information in exchange for judicial benefits.
The US indictment of Blanco alleges that he has been involved in cocaine trafficking since at least 1999, and investigations by Honduran authorities have reportedly concluded that his Atlantic Cartel counts on corrupt military, police and judicial officials to help ensure the smooth functioning of its operations.
SEE ALSO: Atlantic Cartel Profile
Moreover, the Atlantic Cartel reportedly maintains relationships with other major drug traffickers in Honduras such as the AA Brothers Cartel and Víctor Manuel Villela, alias "El Rojo." The group has also been linked to Roberto de Jesús Soto García, a suspected member of drug trafficking networks within the Venezuelan military known as the Cartel of the Suns. Soto García is currently detained in Honduras awaiting extradition to the United States on charges related to a cocaine trafficking plot that recently resulted in the conviction of two nephews of the Venezuelan first lady.
Blanco’s alleged position as the longtime head of the Atlantic Cartel means that he likely has intelligence that would be useful for US law enforcement and judicial agencies involved in investigations and prosecutions of suspects linked to his organization. If Blanco ends up cutting a deal with US authorities, he may even implicate his contacts within the military -- an important political ally of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández -- which could in turn increase tensions in bilateral relations between the United States and the Central American country.