Authorities in Honduras recently discovered another coca farm in a traditional organized crime stronghold, further contributing to suspicions that criminal groups have been experimenting with drug production in a country that has previously been known solely as a transit corridor.
Honduras' anti-drug agency announced on April 9 that authorities had found approximately 14 hectares of coca plants in the community of Los Tamales on the border between the departments of Olancho and Colón.
Officials said they dismantled a clandestine laboratory used to manufacture coca paste, a precursor to cocaine, and they clarified some confusion regarding the size of the fields where the crops were grown, which were thought to have been larger at the beginning of the operation.
In comments reported by El Heraldo, a spokesperson for the military police said that the community of Los Tamales is difficult to access because it is located within a forest reserve. He also mentioned that there were signs the area had previously been used for cultivating coca.
Citing official sources, La Prensa reported that the crops belonged to Colombian groups that could be testing "to see if the conditions are right for cultivating coca in Honduras.”
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles
This is the one of the first instances in which authorities have found relatively large coca cultivations in Honduras. Another case occurred at the end of April 2017, when authorities discovered a plot of approximately eight hectares of coca in Olancho, which they considered an "experiment."
Although the harvest discovered this week seems to be the largest recorded in Honduras to date, Honduran security forces have also found smaller-scale coca cultivations in the departments of Copán, Comayagua and Yoro.
InSight Crime Analysis
Honduras has traditionally been a transit nation for drugs, so the establishment of coca farms there raises the question of whether the drug trafficking dynamics in the country are evolving to include drug production. However, for now it seems criminal groups are only experimenting with raising such crops.
Large coca plantations like the one found in Olancho pose a liability for criminal groups, since their discovery by authorities can mean large losses. Through field research in Colombia, for example, InSight Crime has learned that many farmers now prefer to break up their coca crops into lots as small as three hectares.
Meanwhile, the coca leaf processing laboratories found in Honduras, including the one discovered near the crops in Olancho, have only ever been small-scale, making it too early to determine whether drug production in the country has reached any level of significant sophistication.
It is no coincidence that the two biggest coca farms so far have been found in Olancho, nor that this department would be chosen for conducting such experiments. Olancho has traditionally been a strategic point for organized crime because drug trafficking routes to Mexico pass right through it.