Honduras Now a Huge Transit Hub for US-Bound Cocaine

By Will Godfrey 10/31/11

Nearly half the cocaine in the US arrives via one small Central American nation, a trafficker's paradise with a rocketing murder rate.

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Honduras is in the middle of the coke highway.

Nearly half of all the cocaine in the United States now arrives via Honduras, US authorities believe. The small Central American country, only slightly bigger than Virginia, has become a large hub for the transit of South American-produced cocaine, reports the Associated Press, with between 250 and 300 tons of the drug estimated to pass through each year. An unnamed US law enforcement official is quoted calling Honduras "the number one offload point for traffickers to take cocaine through Mexico to the US." The country's attractions to traffickers are both geographical and sociopolitical. An isolated, unprotected coastline is perfect for landing cargo from speedboats, fishing boats and special "submarines." Although most cocaine arrives by sea, 79% of the hundreds of illicit flights flying north out of South America land in Honduras, reports the same US official. Traffickers can operate from a network of ranches, far from prying eyes, and the northern border with Guatemala—just one hop away from Mexico—is porous. Then there's the economic climate of a country described by the US State Department as "one of the poorest...in the western hemisphere, with about 65% of the population living in poverty." Regular scenes of 70-100 villagers employed in unloading a newly-arrived coke boat illustrate why traffickers can count on the support of communities with few other jobs. Honduras is also "permeated by corruption, among police commanders, businessmen, politicians," as former Honduran Security Ministry adviser Alfredo Landaverde put it. Corrupt cops are said to act as air traffic controllers for cocaine planes. On the ground, gangs of all shapes and sizes vie for the privilege of moving the merchandise north. They've also boosted the murder rate in Honduras to 82.1 per 100,000 people in 2010, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime—that's the highest in the world. Genuine law enforcement and anti-corruption campaigners struggle against the tide—13 luxury homes and ranches and 17 boats were seized last week, in a mass raid against those profiting from the trade—but 95% of the cocaine passing through the country evades detection, AP estimates. Honduras has a hard road ahead of it.

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of Substance.com, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.