Following the arrest of a previously little known gang leader in Honduras, evidence has emerged of his role as one of the country's most important traffickers, indicating the rise of home-grown crime syndicates in the world's most violent country.
Jose Lucio Rivera Gomez, who was arrested on October 27 in the southeastern province of Olancho -- which borders Nicaragua -- is accused of crimes including murder, illegal arms possession and a bold attack on a police station last year, reported La Tribuna. Rivera was allegedly the leader of a powerful gang called the "Band of Lucio."
Police arrested Rivera and six alleged associates in the town of San Francisco de la Paz, and seized firearms -- including assault rifles -- and vehicles belonging to the gang, reported El Heraldo. One suspect, Infantry Sergeant Cesar Vladimir Martinez Isidro, is accused of working as Rivera's right-hand man and planning various crimes committed by the group, according to La Tribuna.
According to a police spokesman, authorities had been tracking Rivera's movements for three months, reported La Tribuna.
InSight Crime Analysis
Rivera was previously a relatively unknown figure, like many others operating in Olancho -- a heavily forested region about the size of El Salvador that is a stronghold for arms and drug traffickers and a key transfer point for drugs moving north. However, local sources told InSight Crime that Rivera is one of the major facilitators of drugs passing through the province, with high-level connections in political circles and security forces.
According to the US State Department, an estimated 79 percent of cocaine flights leaving South America pass through Honduras. A significant number of clandestine airstrips are located in Olancho, and despite Honduran government efforts to destroy these airstrips, the rough terrain and underdeveloped nature of the province makes it difficult to monitor, allowing groups like Rivera's to operate in relative anonymity.
Security presence in Olancho is also weak, with only about 250 police officers assigned to the entire province. The Honduran gang the Cachiros operates in the territory, and the Sinaloa Cartel is believed to have a strong influence there as well.
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Given Rivera's associations and the weakness of security in the region, his capture is somewhat surprising. However, with candidates' stances on drug trafficking an important issue in upcoming elections, the government may be attempting to further show its commitment to anti-drug efforts, following the recent seizure of $800 million in Cachiros assets.