An apparent cocaine factory discovered in Honduras by police was partially destroyed after the site was left unguarded. The laboratory may indicate cocaine production is moving north, while its destruction is a reminder of the corruption and inefficiency Honduras' new hardline president faces.
On February 7, agents of the Honduran Anti-Narcotics Directorate (DLCN) raided a site in the municipality of Nueva Arcadia, located in the western state of Copan. Inspections of the property -- which was found abandoned -- uncovered chemicals used for processing cocaine as well as two helipads, tunnels, and heavy equipment, such as tractors and excavators, reported La Prensa.
However, the day after the lab's discovery, agents returned to find the site partially demolished and burned. One DLCN agent told La Prensa they had asked prosecutors to secure the area and the military to provide security before leaving the site.
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Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez entered office on January 27 on a platform of "mano dura" (iron fist) security policies, using his inauguration to announce the deployment of militarized police in the streets to crack down on crime, and already boasting of increased arrests and drug seizures since he took office. The failure of police to secure this cocaine laboratory, however, is indicative of the challenges Hernandez faces in combating crime with notoriously corrupt state institutions.
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If it is confirmed that the site was used to process cocaine, then the case also provides further evidence that cocaine production is shifting into Honduras, following on from the discoveries of cocaine laboratories in 2011 and 2012.
The lab's location suggests it was likely linked to the Valles, a criminal organization that dominates the Copan region. The Valles are traditionally drug transporters, moving cocaine through Honduran territory on behalf of Mexican cartels, and cocaine processing would represent a step up in their activities.
However, it is also possible the Valles, or whoever else may have been running the lab, were operating under the instructions of their Mexican paymasters. Police in Colombia recently seized a plane bound for Mexico loaded with cocaine paste, suggesting the Mexicans themselves are keen to extend their control to cover another link in the drug trafficking chain to further maximize their profits.