Drug Cartels in Honduras -- Location, Location, Location

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On the land bridge connecting North and South America, Honduras sits on the Atlantic side, south and west of Cuba. At less than a thousand miles from Miami, it’s actually closer than Mexico City to one of the most important smuggling routes into the U.S. And the cartels have taken advantage of Hondura’s status as a third world, impoverished country.

According to news reports from the region, this has become a major staging area for cocaine moving northward, either through Guatemala, along the coast to Mexico, or directly into the U.S. With an estimated 250 to 300 tons of cocaine moving through the country each year, simply handling the logistics has economic implications.

The scene is described this way: Go-fast boats run out into the Atlantic where they meet up with ships. Product is offloaded by hand on shore, where whole villages turn out to help. Meanwhile, in small jungle airstrips, more cocaine arrives. This too is loaded and trucked north.

The money is outrageous. Cartels used to simply burn the cargo planes where they landed on temporary airstrips rather than risk taking off. The practice only changed when the volume of cash got so large that the planes were needed to move pallets of money back to Columbia.

Unstable politics and poverty make any source of income attractive, and the natives need the wages that cocaine transport generates. It’s gotten to the point where local fishermen, who once set lobster traps, now hunt the “white lobster” – cocaine in bundles that has been tossed overboard when smugglers are at risk of apprehension.

Along with the drugs has come powerful gangs and violence. Honduras now boasts a homicide rate higher than El Salvador and on track to exceed that of Kabul, Afghanistan. Once a destination for eco-tourists and scuba divers, the beautiful coast is becoming very dangerous. According to the article, “Key members of the region's business community who have hotel, real estate and retail holdings have been named as associates of the cartels, often for money laundering.”

Oh, and of the 250 to 300 tons of cocaine a year? About 12% is actually seized by law enforcement. The cartels would refer to that as a reasonable overhead.

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