Honduras police said they seized 645 kilos of coca base in several containers that originated in Colombia, prompting the question as to why smugglers are moving the raw material rather than crystallized cocaine into Central America. The reason is that it makes good business sense.
Honduran newspaper Tiempo reported that customs agents found the coca base in a shipment of wood that passed through the port city of Puerto Cortez.
A spokesperson for the Honduras police said that the wood shipment came from Colombian port city of Cartagena. It belonged to a Colombian company, Distripuertas S.A., and was handled by a Honduran shipping company, Impex. Honduran newspaper Tribuna reported that the shipment was destined for a furniture company in Honduras.
When contacted by InSight Crime, Omar Rendon, an administrator at Distripuertas in Medellin, Colombia said that he was "not familiar with the news." He said that the company makes doors out of different types of wood, and that they usually use wood from jacaranda trees.
Roxana Ordoñez, who said she handled "logistics" for Impex in San Pedro Sula, said, "We read about the news in the paper but besides that we don't know anything."
InSight Crime Analysis
The smuggling of Colombian coca base into Honduras is significant because it implies that Colombian drug traffickers have agreed to let their criminal partners in Central America handle the processing the base into cocaine themselves. Such an arrangement would mean that the Colombians are making less money off of the drug shipments, while their partners -- presumably including the Mexican cartels -- are taking a larger share of the profits by processing the cocaine themselves.
There are several advantages to this arrangement for the buyers. Firstly coca base is cheaper than processed cocaine, meaning that less money is lost if the shipment is intercepted. Secondly it is easier to get the precursor chemicals to process the cocaine in Honduras. In Colombia there are strict restrictions on the chemicals. Thirdly, there is less chance of a cocaine laboratory being discovered in Honduras, where they are far less common and where the police have less experience and resources to find them.
There have been prior indications that criminal groups are processing cocaine in Honduras. In 2011, the country announced that it had found its first ever cocaine laboratory, followed by the discovery of a second one in 2012. With a shipment as large as 645 kilos, it is likely that the laboratory and necessary infrastructure are already operating in Honduras and this is just one of many shipments of base leaving Colombia.