Archive for the ‘Organized crime and Honduran president’ Category

Hondurans Are Still Fighting the US-Supported Dictatorship

Ten years after the coup, they have become the largest single Central American nationality in the refugee caravans fleeing north.

By James North

JULY 1, 2019

 

Why People Flee Honduras

Immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are hoping to leave behind a home devastated by poverty, gangs and crime, and widespread violence against women.

06/07/2019

Honduras

Nichole Sobecki/VII

Hundreds and sometimes thousands at a time, Honduran migrants have joined caravans of Central Americans making their way north through Mexico to seek refuge in the United States. They arrive at the southern border only to face stricter asylum rules from an administration increasingly hostile to their entry. There are a number of reasons people may choose to flee their country, and when they do, it’s not an easy endeavor. Yet, they keep coming because of what they’re hoping to leave behind.

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Two-thirds of its roughly 9 million people live in poverty, according to the World Bank, and in rural areas, 1 in 5 lives in extreme poverty. With a growing population, combined with high underemployment and limited job opportunities because of a largely agricultural economy, many Hondurans seek opportunity elsewhere. And many who stay are dependent on remittances.

Women sit outside their home on the hills overlooking the city of Tegucigalpa.

Women sit outside their home on the hills overlooking the city of Tegucigalpa. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

A family looks out from their home in the impoverished neighborhood of San Pedro Sula.

A family looks out from their home in the impoverished neighborhood of San Pedro Sula. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

Honduras is one of the deadliest countries in the world and has one of the highest impunity rates. According to an analysis by InSight Crime, gang membership and activity have been on the rise in the past two decades, and the associated violence has hit the country’s urban areas the hardest. Extortion by gangs has forced many to flee in search of more security. Moreover, the Honduran police are both understaffed—in the northern district of San Pedro Sula, home to nearly 230,000 people and where well-known gangs like Barrio 18 and MS-13 operate, just 50 police officers watch over its 189 neighborhoods—and plagued by corruption and abuse.

Gang grafitti and policing in Honduras.

Top, the tag for MS-13 is sprayed across a wall in La Rivera Hernandez, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in San Pedro Sula. Bottom, police officers frisk civilians and check their ID cards on a criminal database outside a pool bar, while others search the facility, in another neighborhood in San Pedro Sula. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

Violence—particularly domestic and sexual violence—in Honduras has taken or forever changed many women’s and girls lives. Gender-based violence is the second-leading cause of death for women of reproductive age. And in a country where emergency contraception and abortion are banned, even for rape victims, survivors of sexual violence have few options if they become pregnant. They can seek to terminate the pregnancy and risk prison time, or they can go through with it and face one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Latin America. As Jill Filipovic reports for Politico Magazine, for Honduran women, economic instability and physical insecurity are intertwined, and both are exacerbated by long-standing patriarchal social norms in the country.

Various women who have been affected by gender-based or sexual violence in Honduras.

Top, Debora Castillo, 17, outside her home in Corazol. Debora lost two children during childbirth. Honduras has an infant mortality rate over three times that of the U.S. Bottom left, Heydi Garcia Giron, 34, with her children, Daniel and Andrea, in their home in Tegucigalpa. Bottom right, Ricsy (a pseudonym), 19, outside her home in Choloma. Heydi and Ricsy are the victims of domestic and sexual violence, respectively. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

The cemetery in Corazol.

The cemetery in Corazol, Honduras. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

Buses ferry workers to and from their jobs at a clothing factory in Choloma, Honduras, one of the most dangerous cities for women in the world.

Buses ferry workers to and from their jobs at a clothing factory in Choloma, one of the most dangerous cities for women in the world. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

Almost 1,000 people gathered at the bus terminal in San Pedro Sula, after news of a new migrant caravan spread in April, one of several from Central America since late last year. The migrants travel the over 3,000-mile distance to the U.S. border in large groups for safety to avoid being robbed, kidnapped or killed by gangs on the way.

Members of a migrant caravan in San Pedro Sula.

A woman and her child rest on the floor with other participants in a migrant caravan leaving Honduras. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

Narco-Politics Cast Shadow on Honduran Presidents: Court Documents

Honduras’ most powerful drug trafficking organization, Los Cachiros, bribed the country’s former president and opened a line of communication to current President Juan Orlando Hernández, documents recently unsealed in a New York federal court show.

Prosecutors also named President Hernández as a target in a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation that started in 2013, a separate recently unsealed filing shows. Hernández, his sister Hilda, and several members of Honduras’ powerful Rosenthal family were under investigation for “large scale drug-trafficking and money laundering activities related to the importation of cocaine into the United States,” according to the 2015 filing that was unsealed this week in a New York federal court.

In Honduras, meanwhile, Hernández’s predecessor, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa, has been accused of directing government funds to fraudulent business deals with a Cachiros-owned construction firm.

Though the documents come from three separate cases, when taken together, they paint a damning picture of drug traffickers coopting one presidency and trying to influence another.

On May 31, Hernández’s office issued a statement, categorically denying the allegations. “Annoyed at having been prosecuted and extradited by the president Juan Orlando Hernández, various drug trafficking leaders in Honduras, in 2015, falsely accused the president and his colleagues to the United States government.”

It added that the US Justice Department found no evidence to “sustain the accusation” and that the DEA had actually acknowledged Hernández for his collaboration against drug trafficking.

Fabio Lobo, Fixer for Narcos, Reaches Out to Hernández

Fabio Lobo, the former president’s son, pleaded guilty to conspiring to import cocaine and is currently serving a 24-year prison sentence in the United States. In documents in the case against him, which were unsealed this week, President Hernández’s name comes up in conversations between Lobo and Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, a leader of the Cachiros drug organization, who cooperated with US prosecutors for leniency.

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

Prosecutors used undercover recordings and interviews with Rivera Maradiaga to lay out that Fabio Lobo acted as a fixer for Rivera Maradiaga, introducing him to his father and high-level police and military officials who, in turn, eased the way for the Cachiros to traffic cocaine and launder money in exchange for bribes.

In documents from that case, President Hernández is first mentioned when Fabio Lobo tells Rivera Maradiaga that he urged his father and Hernández, then newly elected to the presidency, to “support” Rivera Maradiaga and his family because the “Honduran government had already taken enough from them,” and that they “were good people” and “humble.”

Prosecutors say that Fabio Lobo referenced his father; Hernández; Hernández’s brother Tony, who is currently charged with drug trafficking; and other politicians and military officials when speaking with Rivera Maradiaga, whom prosecutors call “one of the most prolific and violent drug traffickers in Honduras.”

InSight Crime reached out to the President Hernández’s office about the allegations contained in the case documents, but received no response.

Fabio Lobo, according to the filings in his case, also made calls to General Julián Pacheco, Honduras’ current security minister, on behalf of the Cachiros, including sending a picture of a Hummer to the general as a potential bribe.

At one point Fabio Lobo brought a DEA informant to a meeting with Pacheco, where he asked for Pacheco’s consent to move drugs on the Cachiros’ behalf, assuring the general that “it’s not much” cocaine. Pacheco, according to the documents, walked out of the room in anger. Several years later, in 2018, a DEA informant alleged that Pacheco was involved in drug trafficking with the Cachiros.

Cachiros Win Contract After Contract Under Pepe Lobo

In a separate case brought by Honduran prosecutors, Fabio’s father, former president “Pepe” Lobo, figures in an investigation into a Cachiros-owned construction firm that received nearly two dozen government contracts during its first 5 months of existence in 2010, earning the business a total of $2.7 million, according to the Attorney General’s office and the Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras – MACCIH), an anti-graft body.

Case files show that the Lobo administration violated the law to direct the contracts to the drug trafficking group. For example, the Cachiros-owned firm, called INRIMAR, received its first contract for 1.6 million lempiras (about $65,000) on August 2nd, 2010, two days before it was authorized to receive public money, according to investigative documents obtained by InSight Crime.

By December 16 of that year, the firm had been awarded 21 contracts from the Honduran government through the Secretary of Public Works, Jobs and Housing (Secretaría de Obras Públicas, Trabajo y Vivienda – SOPTRAVI).

A source close to the investigation told InSight Crime that “the majority” of the work contracts given to INRIMAR by the Lobo administration “were never even carried out.”

The Lobo administration also rigged bids to favor the Cachiros. On May 10 and July 6 of 2010, the Honduran government declared states of emergency to respond to devastation from a powerful tropical storm that swept through Central America. The emergencies provided the Lobo administration the ability to award no-bid work contracts. Between May and December, the Cachiros-owned firm received six direct contracts from SOPTRAVI, worth 43 million lempiras (about $1.8 million.) According to Honduran law, all such contracts must go through the ministry of advisers, which is directed by the president.

Contracts awarded to Cachiros-owned construction firm

In this case, which investigators are dubbing “narco-política,” prosecutors have brought corruption charges against a dozen people, including former President Lobo’s then secretary of public works and his chief adviser. The ex-president himself, however, has not yet been charged.

When InSight Crime spoke with Tegucigalpa-based investigators linked to the case about why Lobo isn’t among the accused, one investigator said that the Attorney General’s Office has opened an investigation into the former president.

During a press conference last week in the Honduran capital, Pepe Lobo dismissed the investigation and accused MACCIH director Luiz Antonio Guimaraes Marrey of conducting a political witch hunt, challenging him to present his evidence.