Machete in hand, soldiers cut coca plants on the slopes of a mountain in northeastern Honduras, in a battle by the government of leftist Xiomara Castro to prevent the Central American country from becoming a cocaine producer.
Wednesday’s operation is being carried out in “compliance with the state policy of our president trying to prevent us from becoming a cocaine-producing country,” Vice Minister of Defense, Colonel Elías Melgar, told AFP.
Dozens of soldiers were deployed in the rugged mountains of Colon department to destroy a plantation of about 30 hectares of coca plants discovered on Sunday. The area is only accessible by helicopter.
“In the operation we are carrying out [they have seized] around 42 manzanas of coca bushes, with an approximate of one million 600 plants,” Melgar detailed.
In addition, “eight nurseries with 50,000 plants ready for transplanting, six drug laboratories,” as well as “three blocks of marijuana” were confiscated. Five people were arrested in the operation.
“We already have problems with being a transit and consumer country, but being a producer country would generate a criminality that we could not possibly control,” added the colonel.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office reported in a statement that the plantation could have been in production for five years.
For years, Honduran authorities have been seizing small coca crops and drug laboratories.
But since the 1970s, drug lords from South American producer countries have used Honduras as a bridge to transport cocaine to the U.S. market.
Former President Juan Orlando Hernandez (2014-2022) himself was extradited to New York in April, accused of “co-conspiring” to import 500 tons of cocaine into the United States between 2004 and 2022.
A brother of the ruler, “Tony” Hernandez, was sentenced to life in prison last year for the same crime.
Previous discoveries had “the magnitude that we are having now, and that is because we are getting fully involved (…) in the protection of the environment and these plantations are within or near protected areas,” the official explained.
Is Honduras a Narco-State?
“I could not say that this seizure and this operation is directly linked to the former president and now convicted there in New York (…) but it is linked to all those cartels, those criminal structures that are dedicated to drug trafficking and related activities,” added the colonel.
In the New York court, Honduras was singled out as a “narco-state” for its infiltration of government institutions.
“How can we deny that our state was practically infiltrated by drug trafficking, having plantations and having a former president (in prison) there,” said the number two of the Honduran Ministry of Defense.
Melgar emphasized that in the six months of Castro’s government, “seizures have doubled,” with almost 4,000 kilograms of cocaine, he said.
“A forceful response is being given to drug trafficking,” he stressed.
According to authorities, more than 2.6 million coca plants have been destroyed this year, seized in the eastern departments of Colon, Gracias a Dios and Olancho.