Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador to safeguard Gulf of Fonseca
By Dialogo September 10, 2012
CHINANDEGA, Nicaragua, SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador and TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – The Gulf of Fonseca encompasses 3,200 square kilometers (1,236 square miles) and stretches into El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
The governments from the three nations have declared the gulf a “zone of peace, sustainable development and security” because it’s an ecological preserve, tourist attraction and an area that’s ripe for scientific research.
But the Gulf of Fonseca also serves another purpose, as it’s emerged as a waterway used by narco-traffickers and gangs to move drugs throughout Central America. The Heisten, Coronados, Vías Satélite and Pinos Locos branches of the El Salvador-based Mara Salvatrucha are using the gulf as an avenue to traffic drugs and weapons.
The severity of crimes committed on the gulf came to light on Dec. 14, 2011. The Salvadoran Navy intercepted a speedboat transporting 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) of cocaine with a street value of US$25 million, making it the largest drug seizure of the year, according to Salvadoran Minister of Security David Munguía Payés.
Guatemalans Marvin Giovanni Mayorga López and William Peláez Martínez were taken into custody and are being held without bail until the conclusion of their case, which began on June 22.
“The fact is the gulf and its land borders are being used by traffickers to transport drugs among the three countries,” said Carlos Vallecillo, spokesman for the Honduran Anti-Drug-trafficking Directorate (DLCN).
The bust led to the signing of an agreement this past March by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes. The nations will work together to eradicate criminal activity in the gulf region while protecting local residents, including the approximately 30,000 artisanal fishermen who make a living in the area.
“The Gulf of Fonseca is a secondary route for the drug trade, probably being run by organized crime or groups of criminal gangs who specialize in transporting and distributing drugs and are looking for alternative routes for their trafficking,” said Col. Isaac Santos Aguilar, the head of the DLCN. “The transit of illegal drugs is well known. That’s why they’ve reinforced the coastal areas.”
Honduras has delivered several big blows against the traffickers this year, as authorities seized 11,023 pounds (5,000 kilograms) of cocaine and 39,282 pounds (17,818 kilograms) of marijuana and destroyed 17 landing strips for drug-carrying airplanes during the first seven months of 2012.
Meantime, numerous Salvadoran gang members are hiding in the Gulf of Fonseca area after escaping from law enforcement agents, according to Maj. Commissioner Douglas Pichardo Ramírez, chief of Public Security at the Chinandega Department, which oversees the Nicaraguan portion of the gulf.
“We’ve noticed those who enter Nicaragua through the gulf area are for the most part fugitives from the Salvadoran judicial system,” Pichardo said.
Pichardo said earlier this year the Nicaraguan government created a special police unit to work with community leaders and the Navy to fight crime and protect residents in the gulf area. “This unit is a response to the concerns we’ve received from those who live in the area,” he added.
Nicaragua and El Salvador also are exchanging information so they can bolster their fights against kidnappings and trafficking on their shared border. During the past three years, Chinandega Police have caught and extradited 11 suspected gangsters to El Salvador, where they had escaped from prison. Of the 11 convicts, 10 are suspected of trying to organize gangs in the gulf area, Pichardo said.
“We have a constant and daily presence of officials who always are on alert,” Pichardo said. “When we receive reports, we coordinate with the police and Navy so we can fight crime but at the same time honor the peace agreements signed by the three countries.”
Nicaraguan and Salvadoran naval forces recently conducted a joint exercise simulating the pursuit of narco-traffickers in the gulf.
“Like good neighbors, we always try to be in touch,” said Lt. Cmdr. Salvador Ramírez, a tactical-command officer with the Naval Forces of El Salvador. “I work in the Gulf of Fonseca and on several occasions I’ve coordinated [actions] among corresponding vessels from Honduras and Nicaragua.”