Honduran Security Minister Julián Pacheco says the country's drug trafficking groups have begun a process of reorganization following recent arrests and extraditions of powerful underworld players, mirroring a pattern observed in other countries across the region.
In an interview with La Prensa, the minister said the 2014 capture and extradition to the United States of top members of the Valle Valle family, along with the 2015 surrender of the alleged leader of the Cachiros group, set in motion a realignment of Honduras' criminal landscape and its relationship to the legal world.
"The capture of the Cachiros and the Valles was a blow that hit the country's economy, agriculture, banking and institutions like the National Police," Pacheco said. "It was a crushing blow, but as drug trafficking is a profitable business, they are seeking to rebuild the structures anew. They are rehabilitating themselves."
At the same time, Pacheco indicated that the Honduran security forces are prepared for this development.
"We can confront, deter and capture," he said. "Three or four years ago, we couldn't confront, deter, or capture. The state is stronger [now]."
Pacheco also discussed ongoing efforts aimed at combatting corruption within the police force, including the recent extradition to the United States of several officers accused of involvement in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy with the son of a former Honduran president.
Pacheco said the extradition of the officers validated the work of a special police reform commission established earlier this year, which he heads.
"That the United States asked to extradite these six police is an accolade for the commission," the security minister said. "It is tacit support, because the six were questioned through reports from the police and from other agencies that have been supporting us. That tells us that it was justified that these officials left the police."
At the time the United States announced charges against the officers, only one of them had been removed from the force. After the US announcement, the commission quickly moved to fire the remaining suspects.
InSight Crime Analysis
Pacheco's comments regarding the reorganization of criminal organizations in Honduras after the downfall of leading underworld figures come as little surprise. InSight Crime has previously noted similar patterns of fragmentation in Mexico, Colombia and elsewhere.
The continued functioning of Latin American criminal groups increasingly depends less on powerful individual leaders directing large-scale, top-down operations, and more on horizontal networks working on what Pacheco described as the "cellular level."
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The security minister's claims about the police reform commission, however, raise more questions. While the commission has indeed made substantial progress in terms of removing corrupt and unfit officers from the force, it lacks the power to prosecute alleged crimes. And while it may be taken as an "accolade" that the US authorities are set to carry out prosecutions of corrupt police identified by the commission, the fact that allegedly corrupt officers are not being prosecuted within the country remains a concern.