Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

A. Introduction

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 the first half of 2015 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 decreased by 40 percent from 2014. The vast majority of cocaine that transits Honduras arrives via maritime conveyance. The Caribbean region of Honduras remained a primary landing zone for drug-carrying maritime traffic and non-commercial flights. 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 2015, though the rate has fallen from its peak of 86 per 100,000 in 2011. The Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras reported a reduction in the murder rate, from 68 per 100,000 in 2014 to an estimated 56 per 100,000 as of October 2015.

Transnational gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street do not yet appear to be a formal part of the transnational drug logistics chain, though there are anecdotal reports of these groups attempting to establish transnational trafficking activities in Honduras. These gangs more typically participate in local drug distribution and conduct extortion, kidnapping, and human trafficking.

B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends

1. Institutional Development

The Government of Honduras made unprecedented investments in the Honduran National Police (HNP) and the Public Ministry (MP) in 2015, improving their ability to tackle crimes involving narcotics, homicides, gangs and human smuggling. The government combined $30 million of its own funding with $50 million in Inter-American Development Bank loan funds to construct and renovate police stations, increase capacity in its academies to recruit and train 3,000 new officers in 2015, purchase badly needed vehicles, and establish the first functioning crime lab with four satellite locations. The Honduran government plans to double the size of the police force to 23,000 officers by the end of 2017.

In September, the new HNP Investigative Division (DPI) replaced its historically inept and corrupt predecessor. The 1,000-officer DPI now investigates crimes in Tegucigalpa. In early 2016, DPI will expand to cover San Pedro Sula, and by early 2017 all five major urban areas of Honduras will have DPI satellites. All HNP officers must meet more stringent standards for hiring than in the past, including completion of high school. DPI officers must also pass the HNP’s new vetting standard, which includes a criminal background check, a financial investigation, a toxicology, and a Honduran polygraph. With the increase in recruits, nearly 60 percent of the HNP now meet the new educational standard. For the officers who entered with lower education, the HNP will begin remedial education in 2016. As of 2015, all new HNP recruits receive 11 months of training in the police academy, and DPI investigators will receive an additional year of training.

The Public Ministry (MP) reinforced its capacity to investigate and prosecute crime. It launched the new Technical Criminal Investigative Agency, which as of November had 109 vetted investigators (criminal background check, financial investigation, toxicology, Honduran polygraph and human rights vetting). The Directorate for Combatting Drug Trafficking doubled in size to 83 personnel. The MP hired more than 100 new prosecutors and dedicated 50 of them to its anti-corruption division, more than doubling the staff of that office.

The Government of Honduras tackled institutional problems in its penal system by segregating high-value prisoners and gang leaders, but challenges remain with corrupt penal officers, extended periods of pre-trial detention for non-violent offenders and overcrowding.

The Honduran military improved its ability to degrade and disrupt illicit trafficking by synchronizing its operations more effectively. The government’s inter-agency security task force, FUSINA, has soldiers in the Maya Chorti Task Force operating along the border with Guatemala. FUSINA has participated actively in counternarcotic operations along the Caribbean coast.

The National Security and Defense Council continued to use a national security tax to support defense, security and justice institutions. Civil society continues to raise concerns about a lack of transparency in allocating security tax funds. The Honduran government makes use of seized assets administered by the Office for the Administration of Seized Assets to fund security and justice sector institutions, including prevention programs, protective measures for prosecutors and Supreme Court Justices, and equipment and fuel for security forces.

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

As part of its strategy to create a shield around Honduras to deflect the flow of drugs and make Honduras a less welcoming environment for drug trafficking, the Government of Honduras supported maritime and land-based interdiction efforts and continued to extradite drug traffickers to the United States. In 2015, several major drug traffickers were extradited to the United States by the government of Honduras. Additionally, Honduras arrested a number of other high-profile drug traffickers in collaboration with U.S. law enforcement.

The Government of Honduras actively engaged in narcotics interdiction operations. The Armed Forces continued to rotate troops to remote outposts in the east to deter and combat drug trafficking. The HNP’s counternarcotics unit, the TIGRES, was deployed to eastern Honduras. During the year, the HNP reported that the government seized nearly $770 million in drug-related cash and assets as well as more than 2.7 metric tons of cocaine.

In October, under the U.S. Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated three individuals, a number of businesses owned by the Inversiones Continental firm, and a commercial bank for U.S. economic sanctions. The U.S. Department of Justice indicted the firm’s owners. The Government of Honduras subsequently initiated its own seizure actions against the Continental Group.

3. Public Information, Prevention, and Treatment

The Ministry of Security and the Public Ministry made strides in developing 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 of Security, and in turn, the Ministry uses the data to direct its prevention and enforcement programs. The government continued investing in: renovating playgrounds and improving security measures in high crime areas; improving security in public transportation by putting panic buttons, cameras, and real-time monitoring in public buses; installing tens of thousands of public street lights in high crime municipalities; and stronger monitoring of public spaces through new security cameras throughout San Pedro Sula.

The Ministry of Security and the Office of the Presidency sponsored more than a dozen HNP–led community fairs to build bridges between the police and citizens. These events, which have drawn crowds up to 20,000 in a single day, are held primarily in the most violence-prone districts in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. They include free medical care from non-governmental organizations and police medics. Some indicators that public trust is increasing include both the huge attendance at these events and the increase in calls to 911 and local police “tip” lines. The Ministry’s Office of Prevention designed a Honduran model for community policing to be implemented in 2016.

4. Corruption

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. Further, the Government of Honduras stepped up its efforts in 2015 to address the deep-seated challenge that corruption poses. The government indicted, arrested, and began prosecuting corrupt officials at the national and local levels, including officials from the ruling party. The Vice-President of Congress and 15 others were indicted for allegedly overpricing pharmaceuticals and distributing substandard products. The MP issued indictments against 17 employees of the Institute of Property, the organization responsible for land registry, for abuse of authority, embezzlement, and fraud. The High Court of Auditors announced audits of 60 former government officials on suspicion of embezzlement. The government indicted a prominent businessman for his alleged involvement in a massive, multi-year fraud scheme perpetrated against the national health care system (IHSS). A court convicted the IHSS’s financial manager of bribery. All members of the IHSS’s former board of directors, along with 39 others, remained under indictment, which had 25 open investigations.

Despite some progress in combating public sector corruption, the government was put on the defensive in May by public outrage over revelations that some of the estimated $300 million stolen from the IHSS made its way into the campaign coffers of the president’s party. For six to eight weeks, generally peaceful protests around the country – some as large as 25,000 people – called for action against corruption and impunity and urged the government to agree to the installation of a UN commission modeled on the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). In response, the government offered an alternate plan that the Organization of American States adapted and expanded into a formal Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). According to a tentative draft agreement, the MACCIH, among other things, would have foreign prosecutors and judges provide technical assistance to the MP and judiciary. The MACCIH would support a civil society-led “observatory” to monitor the performance of the justice system. Reactions from civil society were mixed, and deep skepticism remained about whether the MACCIH would have the authority and autonomy to examine specific cases of alleged malfeasance and address the deep roots of corruption.

C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives

In addition to increasing the size and quality of the police force, the government aims to gain passage of new police legislation, continue reducing the homicide rate, expand its crime prevention programs nationwide and increase the speed of prosecutions.

Guided by the President’s strategy for Central America, the U.S. government supports municipal crime prevention efforts and community services for youth at risk. 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 supports the development of anti-drug community coalitions as a drug use prevention measure.

In 2015, the United States launched the Place Based Strategy, a collaborative effort to concentrate prevention and law enforcement support programs in the most dangerous neighborhoods. The Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program, which receives funding from the United States and the Honduran government, works with youth to instruct them about assuming personal responsibility and shunning illegal drugs. In 2015 more than 40,000 school children completed the program.

The United States continued its support to train and equip vetted HNP units. The United States also provides logistical support to the Violent Crimes Task Force, which investigates murders of vulnerable persons including journalists and prosecutors, and the Financial Crimes Task Force.

D. Conclusion

The Government of Honduras moved forward aggressively to address longstanding deficiencies in its civilian security and justice institutions. In response, the U.S. government 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 a number of 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 under-governed parts of the country. The results are visible: rates of homicide, kidnapping and extortion are down significantly over last year, and citizens’ impression of the HNP has improved.