Counter-narcotics police in Honduras said a cocaine-processing laboratory discovered in the west of the country in February was used for reducing cocaine purity, not processing the drug, injecting doubt into previous reports about the presence of cocaine-processing labs in the country.
According to La Prensa, officials from the country's Anti-Drug Trafficking Directorate declared the facility was used by local organized crime groups based in Copan and Santa Barbara to dilute high-grade cocaine with chemicals that often mimicked the effects of the drug, fooling users into believing it was purer.
"For example, from one kilo of 85 percent purity, these local groups yielded three kilos," an investigator told La Prensa.
According to the official, once the drugs had been cut, they were sent on to Guatemala or El Salvador.
The statements come less than two months after news of the laboratory's discovery emerged alongside the revelation police had left it unguarded, allowing unknown assailants to partially demolish and burn it.
The question also remains of what happened to the precursor chemicals and heavy machinery initially reported as being discovered at the facility, among them caustic soda -- a chemical most commonly associated with processing the drug and not mentioned in the most recent report.
InSight Crime Analysis
This was not the first time a lab had been discovered in Honduras but this revision casts doubt on previous reports about cocaine-processing labs discovered in the country. The labs are, as noted previously, game changers in the sense that they involve a wholesale shift in who may make the most money.
Cocaine hydrochloride (HCl), the processed version of cocaine, fetches far higher prices than its coca paste precursor. Moving the means of production north from Colombia, for instance, would mean the Hondurans, and presumably their Mexican partners, might be taking a larger share of the profits by obtaining the coca paste and processing it into the HCl themselves.
On its surface, therefore, the shift north makes little economic sense for the Colombian groups who still have the most knowledge of how to process and move cocaine but would be losing money on this operation if they simply moved coca paste.
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The most likely explanation is that the Colombians retained control of the processing and marked up the price as if they had moved cocaine and not coca paste (the difference in cocaine prices between Colombia and Honduras fluctuates but can be as much as $8,000 per kilo). Such an arrangement would surely not be easy to sell to their counterparts as moving the coca paste implies far fewer risks.
In sum, the revised version makes more sense: cutting purity is common throughout the distribution chain. What is not common is for large criminal groups to willingly cut their profit margin.