Drug trafficking is being restructured worldwide, with a significant increase in coca cultivation in Guatemala and Honduras, the recent report Narcofiles: The New Criminal Order by investigative journalism organization the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) indicated.
“This evolution has been driven by several factors, especially the fragmentation of groups that controlled trafficking,” OCCRP reported. “Following the 2016 peace agreement, the disarmament of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) opened up cocaine production to both new and established groups, which experimented with new techniques and supply chains.”
The increased eradication of coca crops in Guatemala, specifically in the departments of Izabal, Alta Verapaz, and Petén, mountainous regions with abundant rainfall, make it so that the country is no longer just a transit route, Guatemalan news site Con Criterio reported.
“What continues to increase is the location and eradication of more coca plantations,” Army Colonel Rubén Téllez, director general of the Guatemalan Defense Ministry’s Press Office, told Diálogo on January 6. “There is a single plantation that was eradicated near Esquipulas, toward the center of the country, in warmer lands. They could be looking to alternate in terms of terrain and climate to grow coca leaf and not only in the southern strip of Petén.”
Between January 1 and December 16, 2023, Guatemalan Armed Forces seized 3,621 kilograms of cocaine, the Defense Ministry told Diálogo. In addition, troops eradicated more than 7.9 million coca bushes in the departments of Petén, Alta Verapaz, Chiquimula, and Izabal, as well as 321,983 poppy bushes in the department of San Marcos, and 539,248 marijuana bushes in Petén and Quiché.
“There is a strengthening of the Army behind all these actions. We have investments in mobility and technology. The radars are working very well. There are good agreements and communication with the radars of countries in the region, which allows us to keep track. We have more unmanned aerial vehicles and more rotary wing aircraft,” Col. Téllez added. “This allows us to provide greater coverage to move small teams to points where aircraft linked to drug trafficking land and where there are no formal airstrips.”
According to Honduran news site Proceso Digital, Honduras faces a complicated situation as drug trafficking groups are moving small amounts of cocaine ranging from 5 to 50 kg. These small shipments are gathered or stored in storage centers near the border with Guatemala. In addition, there has been a mutation in the way these groups, which have been bitter enemies on the ground, are now teaming up to move shipments from one destination to another.
Other criminal organizations continue to bet on coca cultivation. Between January and December 1, 2023 alone, the Honduran Armed Forces eradicated more than 6.6 million coca bushes and more than 12 tons of marijuana, Honduran news outlet Tu Nota reported on December 1.
“What we actually have, both in Guatemala and Honduras, are more seizures of crops,” Dr. Pamela Ruiz, Central America analyst at the International Crisis Group, an independent world peace organization based in Brussels, Belgium, told Diálogo. “What the seizures actually show us is how much effort security forces are putting into making drug seizures.”
Another aspect highlighted by the OCCRP report is that cocaine production in Honduras has grown rapidly in the Colón and Olancho regions. Since 2009, both are key points on the northern route. These growers are, however, far away from South American producers.
“I find it difficult that traditional groups want to leave this business or move their operations to Central America,” Dr. Ruiz added. “The economic power of the groups in Colombia or Mexico is not the same as the groups in Central America, where there are different groups to move drugs.”
In addition to cultivation areas, the country also faces an increase in the supply of domestic demand in the number of people linked to commercialization, drug retailing, money laundering, and the various manifestations of violence, Honduran newspaper La Prensa reported.