Authorities in Honduras have seized more cocaine during the first seven months of this year than all of 2019, indicating a resurgence of one of Central America’s most important cocaine routes despite border shutdowns and transport restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials say 2,241 kilograms of cocaine have been seized between January and July 2020, a little more than last year’s entire haul of 2,218 kilograms, Proceso Digital reported.
Many of the seizures have taken place in La Mosquitia, a jungle region on Honduras' Caribbean coast that is a crucial corridor for cocaine heading north. In July, authorities in the department of Gracias a Dios, which encompasses La Mosquitia and borders Nicaragua, intercepted a fishing boat carrying 900 kilograms of cocaine and a small plane packed with 806 kilograms of cocaine.
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The region has long seen swaths of forest cut down to create clandestine airstrips that serve drug planes. The sparsely populated town of Brus Laguna in La Mosquitia is a hive of such activity, with 18 of the 23 airstrips destroyed in Honduras this year located there. Historically, the area has also been a hotbed of drug violence.
The region has also seen an increase in local cocaine production. In August, three jungle drug processing sites were dismantled in Colón, another department on Honduras' eastern coast.
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While seizures are not a perfect proxy for measuring drug trafficking, it's likely that the amount of cocaine traversing Honduran territory is increasing.
This is a significant reversal from 2015 when drug trafficking in the country had reportedly been reduced by 72 percent after improved military and intelligence work forced traffickers to take alternative routes, according to authorities. Security forces even proudly claimed that no more drug flights were coming through the country, La Prensa reported at the time.
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At the time, a top US military official praised Honduras for its “incredible” efforts, including President Juan Orlando Hernández’s willingness to collaborate with US anti-drug operations. Victory was clearly declared prematurely, especially as Hernández himself has been named as a co-conspirator in US drug trafficking cases, including that of his own brother. Hernández has denied the accusations.
A surge in cocaine production in Colombia the past few years has likely spurred the country's return as a transport hub and smuggling route. Venezuela has also served as a launching pad for drug flights to Honduras.
A spokesman at the Public Ministry in Honduras told VICE News that collaborations with Colombian and US authorities enabled the most recent cocaine seizures.
Some four percent of cocaine shipments, or about 120 tons, that reached the United States in 2019 first made a stop by air or sea in Honduras, according to the US State Department's 2020 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.
Other Central American countries are seeing a similar trend. Costa Rica and Panama have reported record high seizures recently. Guatemala seized a record 17.8 tons of cocaine in 2018, and authorities have already seized 6.5 tons of cocaine between January and July of this year, including retiring more than two tons from a narco-jet. This year, 53 suspected drug flights have already been detected.