Honduras is a major transit country for cocaine, as well as for some chemical precursors for heroin and synthetic drugs. The United States estimated that approximately 86 percent of the cocaine trafficked to the United States in the first half of 2013 first transited through the Mexico/Central America corridor. The United States also estimated in 2012 that 75 percent of all cocaine smuggling flights departing South America first land in Honduras. The Caribbean coastal region of Honduras is a primary landing zone for drug-carrying flights and maritime traffic. The region is vulnerable to 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 coastal region is facilitated by subsequent flights north as well as by maritime and riverine traffic and land movement on the Pan American Highway.
Honduras suffered from violence and a high homicide rate in 2013. According to the country’s Security Minister, Honduras' homicide rate may have decreased in 2013, though it is still among the highest in the world.
Violent drug trafficking organizations and transnational gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street contribute to violence and trafficking in Honduras. Transnational gangs do not appear to be a formal part of the transnational drug logistics chain, but generally participate in drug distribution in local communities. In addition, these gangs conduct other illicit activities such as extortion, kidnapping, and human trafficking.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
In April, at the urging of civil society, the National Congress called the President of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, the Security and Defense Ministers, and the Director General of the Honduran National Police (HNP) to testify publicly about their institutions’ performance in addressing the nation’s security situation. Following the Congressional review, the Minister of Security and the head of the Ministry’s internal affairs office resigned. The Honduran Congress determined that the performance of the Attorney General’s Office was unacceptable and suspended the Attorney General and his deputy – both of whom subsequently resigned. The Congress appointed an intervention commission composed of leading Honduran legal scholars to propose reforms for the Attorney General’s office and manage it for an interim period. In August, the National Congress appointed a new Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General through a process that critics charged was adjusted to favor particular candidates. The new Attorney General took steps to restructure his agency and moved personnel to new positions, as had the intervention commission.
As part of its efforts to root out illicit activity in the security and justice sectors, the Government of Honduras expanded the use of financial disclosures, polygraphs, and other types of vetting for police and prosecutors, and it used the results to remove dozens of police and prosecutors from their positions. Almost all of the senior police leadership was vetted. The government increased the capacity of units and task forces composed of polygraphed and/or vetted Honduran police and prosecutors. A number of these units received U.S.-supported training and had U.S. or international advisors assigned to them. The Ministry of Security took steps to improve internal controls in the HNP, including measures such as inventorying weapons assigned to police officers and installing GPS in police cars to track their whereabouts. Furthermore, the Supreme Court dismissed 57 judges and suspended 16 by mid-2013 after reviewing the work performed by all judges across the country.
In compliance with laws passed by the National Congress, the Government of Honduras established a new HNP unit and two military police battalions to supplement civilian policing efforts.
To strengthen investigative institutions, the United States provided training on a variety of topics for more than 1,200 Honduran police, prosecutors, and judges. The United States also provided support to the Criminal Investigative School, which trained 262 students in basic criminal investigations. As part of the U.S.-Colombian Bilateral Action Plan, the Government of Colombia provided training to HNP staff, the Public Ministry and the Supreme Court in a variety of skills, and provided on-the-job training to police officers. The Government of Chile, with U.S. funding, also provided training to members of the HNP, Public Ministry and Supreme Court. Since 2011, the United States has provided a full-time economic crimes technical advisor from the U.S. Department of Treasury who works closely with the Honduran Administrative Office of Seized Goods (OABI).
Honduras has counternarcotics agreements with the United States, Belize, Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela, and Spain. A United States-Honduras maritime counternarcotics agreement and a bilateral extradition treaty remain in force, and in 2012 the Honduran Congress amended the Constitution to allow for the extradition of Honduran nationals charged with narcotics trafficking, organized crime and terrorism offenses. Unfortunately, no fugitives have been extradited since the amendment went into effect as the Honduran Supreme Court struggles with adopting procedures to implement the constitutional changes and due to the lack of security for judges that may sign extradition warrants. Honduras signed the Caribbean Regional Maritime Counter Drug Agreement, but did not ratify it. 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 actively engaged in narcotics interdiction operations in 2013 and worked to strengthen institutions responsible for preparing criminal cases, bringing them before a judge, and remanding convicted criminals to prison facilities. In 2013, Honduras seized more than $800 million in drug-related cash and assets as well as more than 1.7 metric tons of cocaine, and Honduran authorities arrested 30 people in connection with drug related activities.
In one of their greatest successes, the HNP, the Public Ministry, and OABI (with support from the Honduran military) conducted a major law enforcement operation against the Los Cachiros drug trafficking organization in September. The inter-agency operation, which received assistance from the United States, seized assets connected to Los Cachiros valued at more than $500 million. In October, Honduran military forces conducted Operation Armadillo, a successful operation to disrupt and disable illicit airfields used for drug trafficking. The United States assisted the operation by transporting Honduran forces to and from several remote locations in the Gracias a Dios region.
Honduras improved its maritime, border, and land interdiction capabilities in 2013. In February, the HNP conducted Operation Three Points with U.S. support. The one-day operation included a raid at Choluteca Prison and mobile checkpoints along the southern section of Honduras, yielding 45 arrests and the seizure of weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and narcotics. In September, the Honduran Navy, HNP, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration completed a joint investigation of a suspected maritime trafficking group that resulted in the seizure of 420 kilograms of cocaine, as well as the arrest of two suspects and a boat. Throughout the year, the Honduran Navy took commendable initiative to increase its presence in under-governed spaces.
Honduras is not a major production center for drugs. Only two cocaine-processing labs have been discovered in Honduras (in 2011 and 2012). Honduras has modest marijuana production for domestic consumption.
3. Drug Abuse Awareness, Demand Reduction, and Treatment
More than 12,000 students participated in the U.S.-funded Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program, a school-based curriculum used widely in the United States. The United States provided training to more than 100 HNP officers in specialized courses. With U.S. funding, Colombian National Police provided the HNP training on the protection of minors and adolescents. HNP officers interacted with 700 Honduran children as part of the training.
As a matter of policy, the Government of Honduras does not encourage nor facilitate illicit production or distribution of narcotics or the laundering of proceeds from illicit drug transactions. However, Honduras continued to struggle with corruption in 2013. The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report for 2012-2013 listed crime, corruption, and inefficient government bureaucracy as the three principal problematic factors for doing business in Honduras, ranking the country 90 out of 144.
An anti-corruption bill remains in draft, and the government has not fully implemented its inter-agency Transparency and Anticorruption Plan. Only 15 percent of government agencies have complied with transparency and public information requirements.
Poor internal management and operational inactivity continued at the National Anticorruption Council (CNA). Several constituent organizations renounced their participation; more than half of the staff was fired or resigned; and the Public Ministry investigated two of CNA’s principal officers for workplace harassment. Despite its mandate to conduct audits and investigate corruption allegations, the CNA has never submitted any documentation related to complaints of corruption or followed up on any corruption cases since its inception in 2001. Hondurans rate CNA as one of the worst public institutions in the country. CNA’s board fired its executive director in September and appointed an oversight commission to reform the organization.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
The United States supports citizen security, law enforcement, and rule-of-law programs in Honduras, mainly through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). Working closely with Honduran counterparts, these programs aim to expand Honduran capabilities to interdict, investigate, and prosecute illegal drug trafficking and other transnational crimes, while strengthening Honduras’ justice sector.
Through CARSI, the United States trains and equips Honduran police to perform anti-gang law enforcement. The United States also supports community police in Honduras with equipment, vehicles, training, communications, and social and economic programs.
In 2013, the United States helped the Honduran government design a program of comprehensive police reforms that includes a new police law; regulations; and structural, educational, and internal affairs reforms. However, the Honduran Congress has yet to pass the reforms into law. In support of the broader reform program, and as part of the U.S. – Colombia Action Plan, Colombian National Police advisors conducted assessments and worked with Honduran law enforcement agencies to develop reform plans in Internal Affairs and other areas.
The United States and Honduras agreed to establish an Inter-Institutional Task Force (IITF), which would include U.S. and international law enforcement and justice sector advisors. The IITF is envisioned to be a key pillar of U.S.-Honduran joint efforts to improve Honduran investigative capacity, protect human rights, and reduce impunity.
The United States seeks to counter gangs and drug traffickers through a mix of policy initiatives. The U.S. government supports municipal crime prevention efforts and community services for youth at risk. For example, U.S. assistance supports 40 outreach centers that provide a safe place to participate in recreational activities and a platform for guiding at-risk youth into job preparedness training. The United States also supports the development of anti-drug community coalitions as a drug use prevention measure.
The Honduran government has made repeated attempts to purge, reform, and strengthen its security and justice sector institutions. Although the government’s actions have not yet produced the needed results, civil society and all three branches of government have been intensely engaged in these processes that have triggered a greater urgency for reform within security and justice sector institutions. The United States encourages the Government of Honduras to continue the process of institutionalizing reform within its security and justice institutions.