A gold-plated AK-47 rifle encrusted with diamonds and emeralds has been discovered among a large armory of weapons seized by Honduran police, perhaps indicating Mexican cartels are strengthening their presence in this Central American nation.
The weapon, valued at $50,000, was part of a cache of 32 pistols, 15 rifles, grenades and grenade launchers, seven bulletproof vests, and more than 500 rounds of ammunition found at an abandoned farm in northern Honduras over the weekend.
Government official Marlen Bengas told La Prensa that preliminary investigations suggested the weapons belonged to Mexican cartel the Zetas.
InSight Crime Analysis
Honduras is a key location in drug trafficking routes from South America to the United States, where Colombian cartels often hand their shipments onto their Mexican counterparts.
The discovery of such gaudy weaponry, something long associated with Mexican narco-culture, suggests Mexican cartels could be looking to build a permanent, armed presence inside the country, rather than rely solely on representatives working with local transport groups, or "transportistas."
Mexican gangs have been expanding their presence in Honduras for several years, with the Sinaloa Cartel one of the main organizations active here.
If the Honduran government's assertions are correct, it suggests the Zetas could be building a permanent base in the country. There have been previous reports of Zetas in the northern states of Ocotepeque, Copan, Colon and Atlantida, along Honduras' Atlantic coastline. The Zetas' main power base in Central America has been Guatemala's northern Peten state.
Honduras' lax gun laws and weak state institutions have also helped make the country a major source of weapons for regional arms traffickers. In one indication of the flux of weapons entering Honduras, authorities have discovered high-power weaponry in the hands of local gangs. During a recent raid on a Barrio 18 safe house, police found a grenade launcher, an AK-47, and a M16 rifle amid the gang arsenal.