The trial of a high-level drug trafficker associated with the MS13 in Honduras may shed light on the extent of the gang’s involvement in the transnational drug trade.
David Elías Campbell Licona, alias “Viejo Dan,” was deported to Honduras on November 5, more than two years after his capture by Nicaraguan police in June 2021. The Honduran Public Prosecutor’s Office immediately began a judicial process, charging Campbell with “illicit association to the detriment of the internal security of the Honduran state,” among other crimes.
Campbell was the subject of an Interpol red notice. He is wanted for extradition by the United States, after being included, along with Yulan Andony Archaga Carías, alias “Porky,” the alleged leader of the MS13 in Honduras, on the list of the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in January 2023. In November 2021, the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York filed an indictment against both men for drug trafficking.
The indictment and the inclusion of his name on the OFAC list allege that Campbell acted, or pretended to act, on behalf of the MS13, to traffic drugs.
Ahead of the trial, Honduras’ Technical Agency for Criminal Investigation (Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal – ATIC) accused Campbell of being a key financial figure in Mara Salvatrucha. Local media even claimed that Campbell was the key liaison with Colombian drug trafficker Dairo Antonio Úsuga, alias “Otoniel,” former leader of the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC)
Honduran newspaper El Heraldo also claimed that Campbell was a supplier of arms and drugs to the MS13, a confidant of Porky’s, and an advisor to the gang in the creation of companies to launder their illicit profits.
InSight Crime Analysis
Honduras’ judicial process against Campbell may shed light not only on his relationship with the MS13, but also on the evolution of the gang in the country.
In the past decade, the MS13 grew to be one of Central America’s largest criminal threats, with presence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and has been linked to a broad range of criminal economies ranging from extortion to drug trafficking.
Campbell’s relationship with the MS13 has been speculated on for years. The media has constructed an image of the gang as a large transnational network with a hand in drug trafficking, extortion, and synthetic drug production, among other illegal activities.
However, intelligence sources and gang experts consulted by InSight Crime suggest the MS13 has evolved disparately in different Central American countries. According to the experts, in Honduras the gang is likely to have more links to drug traffickers due to the country’s central role as a transshipment point for drug shipments heading to the United States.
As InSight Crime has reported, Campbell is likely not a full member of the MS13 in Honduras, but rather acts as a liaison between the gang and other traffickers. According to recordings of intercepted conversations between Campbell and Porky, Campbell sought the gang’s support for his illicit activities, not the other way around. In this sense, Campbell’s involvement would be similar to that of the alleged front man Oscar Cabrera, who was captured by Honduran police as part of a 2016 operation known as Operation Avalanche.
Cabrera was accused of laundering money — presumably from drug trafficking and other criminal activities — for the MS13 through a car dealership and real estate purchases. Like him, Campbell has also been linked to money laundering operations related to the MS13, according to the US indictment.
As early as 2016, InSight Crime noted how unlikely it was that the MS13 would make inroads into the drug trade for a number of reasons, including its anarchic nature and its lack of both capital and contacts. However, the information Campbell could offer during his trial about the operation and evolution of the MS13 may provide an opportunity to learn firsthand about the organization’s links to drug trafficking and other criminal economies.
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