Honduras is a major transit country for cocaine, as well as for some chemical precursors. The United States estimates that approximately 90 percent of the cocaine trafficked to the United States in 2016 first transited through the Mexico/Central America corridor. According to U.S. estimates, the volume of cocaine that transited Honduras to the United States over this period remained approximately the same as in 2015, equating to approximately three to four metric tons (MT) per month. The vast majority of cocaine that transits Honduras arrives via maritime conveyance. In 2016, the U.S. government estimated that the number of aircraft suspected of smuggling cocaine into Honduras decreased by approximately 30 percent from the previous year, to 35 in total. Nevertheless, approximately 80 percent of all suspected drug flights departing from South America first landed in Honduras.
The eastern Caribbean region of Honduras remained a primary landing zone for drug traffickers operating by land and sea. The region suits narcotics trafficking due to its remoteness, limited infrastructure, lack of government presence, and weak law enforcement institutions. Drug transshipment to points north from the Caribbean coast is facilitated by maritime and riverine traffic, subsequent flights north, and overland movement.
Honduras continued to suffer from a high homicide rate in 2016, though the rate has fallen from its peak of 86 per 100,000 people in 2011. The Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras estimated the 2016 murder rate at 59.1 per 100,000 people.
Criminal street gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street do not yet appear to be a formal part of the transnational drug logistics chain, except as facilitators of trafficking through Honduras. These gangs are typically involved in local drug distribution, extortion, kidnapping, and human trafficking. Nevertheless, their participation in transshipment leads to an increasing likelihood of entering the drug retail market, as they are often paid in product for their services.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
In early 2016, President Hernandez, through executive order, created the civilian-led Police Purge Commission, with wide ranging powers to reform the police and remove corrupt police officers from its ranks of 14,000. The Honduran National Police (HNP) is also aggressively hiring new police officers with plans to build up a force of 27,000 by 2022. With U.S. support, the commission is assisting the Honduran Congress in the creation of a new organic police law, which, if implemented correctly, could further bolster the institution and reduce impunity in Honduras.
The Public Ministry (U.S. Justice Department equivalent) launched its Technical Criminal Investigative Agency (ATIC) with U.S. assistance in 2015. Since its inception, ATIC investigators have arrested approximately 50 government officials for corruption, including mayors, police, and individuals within the Public Ministry itself. The Honduran government instituted a comprehensive vetting system for law enforcement officials. With U.S. assistance to the Honduran Tax Authority, the Public Ministry indicted 57 individuals for tax evasion in 2016.
In September 2015, the HNP Criminal Investigation Directorate (DPI) replaced its historically inept and corrupt predecessor. Since then, the DPI has opened 16 offices in 11 of the 18 Honduran departments, and plans to increase its agents from 1,300 to 1,800 by the end of 2017. The DPI acquired a total of 21 criminal mobile labs throughout the country, and is building two fixed criminal laboratories to complement the mobile labs. The HNP Criminal Investigation School has trained DPI agents in many specialized detective skills. The Public Ministry has enhanced its capacity to investigate and prosecute crime, including by doubling the personnel of the Directorate for Combatting Drug Trafficking to 83 since 2014. Furthermore, over the past two years, the Public Ministry has hired more than 100 prosecutors and dedicated 50 of them to its anti-corruption division, more than doubling the staff of that office.
Honduras has counternarcotics agreements with the United States, Belize, Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela, and Spain. A U.S.-Honduras maritime counternarcotics agreement and a bilateral extradition treaty remain in force. Honduras signed, but did not ratify, the Caribbean Regional Maritime Counter Drug Agreement. A Declaration of Principles between the United States and Honduras for the U.S. Container Security Initiative covers the inspection of maritime cargo destined for the United States.
2. Supply Reduction
The Government of Honduras continued to take steps to increase the capacity of the civilian government to counter and address narcotics trafficking in 2016. The Public Ministry created a counternarcotics group (DLCN), and within the HNP, the counterdrug SWAT team, known as the TIGRES, assigned 80 highly-trained police officers to a new intelligence unit. The Government of Honduras continued to extradite drug traffickers to the United States in 2016 and also arrested a number of other high-profile drug traffickers in collaboration with U.S. law enforcement.
The Honduran military, however, made few improvements in 2016 to increase overall capabilities to degrade and disrupt illicit trafficking. In the domain of maritime interdiction, no interdictions were recorded despite 100 actionable events supported by U.S. authorities. Many factors contribute to the low success rate in suppressing international narcotics trafficking off the Honduran coast. Besides extreme geography and long distances between command and control nodes, the Honduran military lacks efficient mechanisms for sharing operational intelligence with Honduran security forces in a timely and secure manner. Corruption further impedes progress, as trafficking organizations have infiltrated some military units in active drug corridors such as the Gracias a Dios Department and along the northern Caribbean coast.
As of late September 2016, Honduran intelligence officials revealed that new criminal structures were reforming to challenge the state after the disruption of trafficking organizations that had operated for decades. Moreover, in the aftermath of extraditions and asset seizures, new criminal bosses have emerged to assume leadership of dismantled networks to continue cocaine smuggling and other forms of crime.
Honduran Defense Secretary Samuel Reyes commented that government intelligence entities identified criminal networks that continued to recruit. Experts questioned government claims of reduced narcotics trafficking due to the number of clandestine airstrips destroyed, noting narcotraffickers could have easily and quickly changed routes or repaired the destroyed landing strips.
3. Public Information, Prevention, and Treatment
The Ministry of Security and the Public Ministry advanced security policies and programs focused on crime prevention. The Ministry of Security opened 30 municipal violence observatories. The observatories feed crime data to the Ministry, which uses it to direct prevention and enforcement programs. The government focused on instituting security measures in high crime areas, such as: improving security in public buses by placing panic buttons, cameras, and real-time monitoring technology; installing tens of thousands of street lights in high crime municipalities; and installing security cameras throughout San Pedro Sula. Furthermore, the Honduran Government opened new state of the art 911 Command Centers in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula to respond to crimes, public emergencies, and national disasters.
The Ministry of Security and the Office of the Presidency sponsored more than a dozen HNP-led community fairs in 2016 to foster closer relations between the police and citizens. These events were held primarily in the most violence-prone districts in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa and drew crowds of up to 20,000 in a single day. Fairs included free medical care from nongovernmental organizations and police medics. Indicators of increased public trust include the huge attendance at these events, positive polling results, and the increase in calls to 911 and local police "tip" lines. The Ministry's Office of Prevention designed and implemented a Honduran model for community policing in 2016, whereby all police are trained in community policing principles.
In 2016, the United States continued the successful Place Based Strategy (PBS), a collaborative effort to concentrate prevention, social development, and law enforcement support programs in the most dangerous neighborhoods. Dramatic reduction in homicide rates have been reported in these PBS neighborhoods. The Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program continues to be very popular not only among educators and schools, but also increasingly with the police and parents. The HNP, with U.S. assistance, provided the Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program to nearly 80,000 students in 2016.
As a matter of policy, the Government of Honduras does not encourage or facilitate illicit production or distribution of narcotics or the laundering of illicit proceeds. In 2016, the Government of Honduras created the Police Purge Commission to evaluate and dismiss corrupt police officers. The Commission removed approximately 1,946 police from the HNP as of December 2016. To meet its target of completing approximately 14,000 personnel reviews by
April 2017, the Commission received and introduced dozens of vetted active-duty police officers to assist in reviewing police archives. After the Commission completes this review of the HNP officer corps, it will review the personnel files of nearly 11,000 non-commissioned officers and rank-and-file members in its remaining tenure. The Commission will likely request an extension of its mandate to complete this volume of work.
In January 2016, the Honduran Congress ratified an agreement allowing the Organization of American States (OAS) to support Honduran government efforts to improve the justice system, investigate cases of corruption, and develop anticorruption mechanisms. The Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras received a four year mandate and expects to have a team of approximately 70 staff members; concrete investigatory activities were just getting underway in the last quarter of 2016.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
In addition to increasing the size and quality of the police force, the Honduran government aims to pass new police legislation, continue reducing the homicide rate and targeting of criminal gangs, channel homicide success by focusing on domestic violence and extortion, expand its crime prevention programs nationwide, and increase the speed of prosecutions. The government began an aggressive policy of seizing drug-related properties and expects to expand this effort in 2017.
Consistent with the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America, the Central American governments' Alliance for Prosperity initiative, and the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), the United States continues to be a key provider of assistance aimed at improving the professional capabilities of security and justice institutions in Honduras. The United States supports crime prevention projects, community police programs, and community activities for at-risk populations. For example, the United States supports over 40 outreach centers that provide safe places for youth to participate in recreational activities and serve as platforms for guiding at-risk youth into job training. The Honduran government and the private sector fund components of these programs. The United States also supports the development of anti-drug community coalitions as a drug use prevention measure.
The United States continued its support to train and equip vetted HNP units. The United States provides logistical support to the Violent Crimes Task Force (VCTF), a specialized vetted unit, which investigates the murders of vulnerable persons including journalists, lawyers, members of the LGBTI community, and foreign nationals. The VCTF expanded from 11 investigators in 2015 to 41 in 2016, and is projected to have permanent teams in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. The Criminal Structures Unit, which investigates kidnappings and related crimes committed by criminal rings, played a central role in a greater than 40 percent reduction in kidnappings. The United States trains and supports the counternarcotic SWAT team, the TIGRES, which has successfully arrested drug traffickers. The United States trains and supports an HNP border control task force, GOET, that routinely interdicts narcotics smuggling as it executes its primary mission to control migration.
The Government of Honduras moved forward in 2016 to address longstanding deficiencies in its civilian security and justice institutions. In response, the United States recalibrated its assistance to give added impetus to Honduran government efforts to reform its civilian police force and improve prosecutorial capacity. The Honduran government took steps to disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations, including extraditing high-profile drug traffickers, seizing the assets of leaders of the drug trafficking organizations, and deploying security forces to undergoverned parts of the country. The results are visible: rates of homicide, kidnapping, and extortion were down from 2015, and citizens' impressions of the HNP are improving.
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|Title Annotation:||Country Reports|
|Publication:||International Narcotics Control Strategy Report|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2017|