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BRIEF

Honduras Extraditions Hint at Ongoing Weakness in Judicial System

EXTRADITION / 10 OCT 2016 BY LUIS FERNANDO ALONSO EN

Five members of the weakened Valles drug trafficking organization are facing extradition to the United States, highlighting the Honduran government's commitment to dismantling the once notorious trafficking group but also the ongoing weakness of the country's judicial institutions.

Five members of the Valles drug trafficking organization, including the group's alleged liaison with Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, are slated for extradition to the United States, reported El Heraldo. Sources close the Security Ministry say the group was in charge of many of the Valle organization's drug trafficking operations.

A police source revealed that three of the men -- José Mauricio Castillo Sanabria, José del Tránsito García and Arnulfo Fagot Máximo -- were in charge of receiving drug shipments as well as managing some of the drug cartel's assets, including private docks used for unloading drug shipments.

The source also said that another one of the men, Hidelgrado Gastelum García, was a liaison between the Valles and Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel. A Mexican-Guatemalan dual national, Gastelum García is the cousin of the infamous César Gastelum Serrano, who has been crdited with forging the relationship between the two trafficking organizations. Gastelum Serrano remained high on the list of most wanted drug traffickers in both Honduras and the United States before his arrest in Cancún, Mexico in 2015.

According to the El Heraldo's source, the group of five based themselves out of the port city of La Ceiba, on the country's northern coast. The group's trafficking operations occurred mostly in the departments of Colón and Gracias a Dios, particularly the remote jungle region of La Mosquitia.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Honduran government's actions indicate a clear willingness to combat powerful criminal organizations like the Valles. A joint operation in 2014 involving Honduran special forces, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Guatemalan authorities saw the capture of much of the group's top leadership, including brothers Miguel Arnulfo and Luis Alonso Valle, both of whom were subsequently extradited to the United States.

    SEE ALSO: Valles Profile

However, the impending extradition of mid-level members could suggest that the government is not confident in its own judicial system and is outsourcing judicial proceedings to the United States. And while this may ensure that suspected criminals are swiftly prosecuted and jailed, it does little to incentivize Honduras to strengthen its own institutions to be able to handle these types of cases.

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