Honduran gang operatives hijack Sinaloa Cartel drug shipments in Nicaragua
By Dialogo March 04, 2014
Honduran drug trafficking groups are responsible for the surge in violence in the Atlantic region of Nicaragua. Drug gangs are seizing drug shipments, a sign that these gangs are becoming a transnational threat.
Organized crime groups are crossing from Honduras into Nicaragua to avoid Honduran military operations, authorities said.
Nicaraguan gang enforcers who operate in the Atlantic region – which is known as the “Mosquito Coast” -- have formed alliances with Honduran drug traffickers, Brig. Gen. Bayardo Rodriguez, the chief of military operations for the Nicaraguan Army, told La Prensa. These enforcers – who are known as “tumbadores” – are stealing drug shipments on behalf of Honduran organized crime groups.
“There are tumbadores, and these tumbadores have connections with drug trafficking structures in Honduras. When they come to Nicaragua, these criminal groups forge ties with logistics structures in the Caribbean since they aim to eliminate these people who steal drugs,” Rodríguez said. “We have major problems with armed groups of drug traffickers in the border region.”
The gangs of tumbadores are stealing drug shipments on behalf of Honduran gangs, including Los Cachiros, Los Valles, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18, authorities said. These organized crime groups have traditionally operated on a local and regional level, selling drugs and committing extortion and engaging in other criminal enterprises in areas they control.
Many of these tumbadores have worked as drug mules for organized crime groups, according to the United Nations. The gangs of tumbadores use high-powered rifles to ambush operatives who are transporting drugs for large transnational criminal organizations. These transnational criminal organizations include the Sinaloa Cartel, Los Zetas, Los Urabenos and Los Rastrojos, authorities said.
A strategic region
The Atlantic region of Nicaragua is a strategic area for organized crime groups, which transport drug shipments through the area. The shipments eventually are transported to Mexico, the United States, Canada, Africa, or Europe.
In Nicaragua there are strategic and logistic areas for international drug trafficking networks, and each country in the region has them, Nicaragua does not have to be the exception. The region seems complicated because these areas are constantly in dispute and in most cases we see criminal groups operating through semi organized groups with young members, said World Bank security analyst Enrique Betancourt,.
“What we see in Nicaragua is a struggle between groups with greater international power and local groups,” Betancourt said. “This creates alliances or interventions and the possibility that these (smaller) gangs become a transnational threat.”
Honduran drug trafficking operatives are entering Nicaragua through the border the two countries share, which is about 600 kilometers long. The number of drug trafficking operatives who have left Honduras to cross into Nicaragua has increased in recent months, Rodriguez said. Many of these operatives are entering Nicaragua to avoid operations by the Honduran Armed Forces, according to Rodriguez.
Operations by the Ecological Battalion and North Military Detachment in the Sixth Military Region Command have forced organized crime groups to move their operations into Nicaragua, authorities said.
Among the organized crime operatives who have left Honduras to enter Nicaragua are enforcers who were wounded during clashes with the Honduran Armed Forces, authorities said. They fled to Nicaragua to avoid being captured.
The region that these drug trafficking operatives are moving into features large areas of uninhabited jungle terrain. Much of the drug trafficking in Nicaragua is concentrated along the Caribbean coast.
Coastal drug trafficking routes
Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America, has nearly 500 kilometers of coastline and several islands. Organized crime groups use the coastline and islands as drug trafficking routes and transshipment points.
Transnational criminal organizations use the Atlantic region of the country to temporarily store drugs and to refuel SUVs and trucks which they use to transport cocaine. From the perspective of international organized crime, the area does not represent an attractive market per se, its value is purely logistical, however the connection with local groups is characterized by very flexible models of affiliation and loyalty over time, Betancourt said.
In particular, the Sinaloa Cartel, Los Zetas and the Colombian organized crime group Norte del Valle operate in the coastal region.
Nicaragua registered 11 killings per 100,000 residents in 2013. The rate of killing is about 33 per 100,000 residents in the Atlantic coast region.
A growing threat
The fact that Honduran organized crime groups are using enforcers to ambush drug shipments in Nicaragua’s Atlantic region indicates that the Honduran groups are becoming more sophisticated and more dangerous, Betancourt said.
Transnational criminal organizations, like the Sinaloa Cartel, are increasing their activities in the Atlantic region, transporting and storing larger amounts of drugs, according to the study “Security in Nicaragua: Central America’s Exception,” which was published recently by the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C.
Drug trafficking groups operate in the so-called Mosquito Coast in a variety of ways, authorities said. Groups like the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas have built illegal airstrips, which they use for clandestine narco-flights. These and other drug trafficking groups also use SUVs and trucks to transport cocaine through the region.
Vigilance by Nicaraguan security forces
The Nicaraguan Army has increased patrols in the Mosquito Coast region, and police forces are paying close attention to the area, to try to prevent violence, authorities said.
In 2013, the Armed Forces of Nicaragua launched a counter-narcotics operation, “RetainingWall,” to “contain, capture, and divert as many drugs as possible at the borders and at sea, in the Caribbean and the Pacific.”
Cooperation between the security forces of Nicaragua and Honduras is important in the battle against organized crime, Betancourt said.
In October 2013, the governments of Nicaragua and Honduras agreed to cooperate in the fight against organized crime on the border shared by the two countries. Officials with the two countries signed an agreement to ratify the cooperation.
Nicaraguan security forces must sophisticate their approach and intelligence to identify the dynamics and alliances between global organizations and local, security analyst concluded, the security analyst said.