Last week Honduras adopted a law allowing the government to shoot down planes suspected of trafficking illegal drugs through the country. International drug trafficking is probably the most well known transnational organized crime. A major problem that forms a serious threat to the national security and stability of states. Complex criminal networks (also called drug cartels) are interlinked across state borders, especially between South and North America. At both ends civilians suffer from the violence associated with trafficking.
Effective international actions and solutions are necessary to counter this form of transnational organized crime. But how bad is the situation in Honduras; the new trafficking hub? And who are those drug lords? Who is tacking action to combat drug trafficking?
Bridge-countries and Honduras
In the 1980s the Central American countries became critically important to the international drug trade and have remained so ever since, with illegal drugs continually transiting en route to North American, European, and various other markets. Central American countries are the so-called bridge-countries. States that may neither consume nor produce illegal drugs but that lie on favoured paths between the centers of production and consumer markets.
Honduras (an economy strongly dependent on agriculture) is situated right in the middle between South and North America for the air, sea and overland traffic in drugs. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Honduras is the world’s most violent country. It is the drug trafficking that intensified the violence between the drug gangs and the military, which killed a growing number of innocent people. When president Juan Orlando Hernandez won the support of the Honduran voters last November he promised a tough response to violence coming from drug trafficking and drug cartels. The new laws authorizing the country’s Air Force to shoot down planes suspected of carrying drugs is one of his first actions.
Developing countries are extremely vulnerable to the impact of organized crime because of (e.g.): inadequate legal structures, weak border controls and the lack of cooperation between government agencies. As a result, Honduras has experienced an increase in the number of drug cartels operating in the country. Also drug cartels coming from Mexico are forming a new ‘hub’ in Honduras where they are meeting less resistance. The drug cartels from Mexico that are believed to be present and operating in Honduras are Los Zetas and Los Cachiros. The latter is said to be working together with the Sinaloa Cartel which is a cartel already present in the country. The presence of these drug lords and the related crime requires action and solutions for the Central American region.
Experts of the U.S. Office on Drug Control Policy have found out that negotiating with the drug lords themselves is useless: “Drug lords don’t have a political agenda. Their philosophy is ‘let me do my business, let me make my money’ and their mentality is stay out of my way or I’ll kill you.”
The U.S. led ‘War on Drugs’
The first action to describe comes from the U.S. During a press conference in 1971, president Nixon declared drug abuse and trafficking: ‘public enemy number one’. The so-called ‘War on Drugs’ led by the U.S. started. Illicit drug trade was (and still is) a great threat to the Central American region, but also to the U.S. itself. Especially, when you think that the drug trafficking problem cannot be considered in isolation. Criminals are often involved in a range of activities. Their only objective is to make money. As for example: well-developed routes used for trafficking in drugs are also used to smuggle people, firearms and illegal goods.
The U.S. has been working with allies on targeting drug trafficking organizations and decreasing the violence in the region. The U.S. started with programs like the Central American Regional Security Initiative and the Mérida Initiative in Mexico: a security cooperation agreement between the U.S. and the government of Mexico with the aim of combatting the threats of drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and money laundering. The U.S. has done a lot of work in assisting the Central American countries in their fight against the drug cartels. But, despite their efforts, drug cartels have (as a result) shifted to operating elsewhere in the region. They have moved to places where security and control are weaker; like in Honduras. The ‘war on drugs’ is not over!
Drug Control and the UN
To enable effective action to be taken to counter the problem of transnational organized crime it is important to have accurate information about illicit markets. This type of research is the work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The UNODC has a network of regional, country and project offices delivering assistance and implementing projects in all regions in the world. The organization is responsible for the implementation of a number of international conventions. The most relevant of these treaties is: the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. According to this treaty states must work together to prevent and to control the illegal production, trafficking and consumption of dangerous substances. Both Honduras and Mexico are a party to this convention.
It is important that this work and research on drug trafficking is done. Drug trafficking is a global problem and a serious threat to the national security and stability of states. In our so-called ‘globalized world’ more international focus and cooperation is needed to combat drug trafficking. The U.S. has a partnership with Honduras and military personal helping with finding the drug cartels in the country. But it is not a problem to be solved easily. Because at the same time, politicians (in the Central American region), who themselves participate in the drug trade and organized crime, make it difficult to act adequately. And of course, the new law in Honduras can be questioned as well whether it will be a good idea to ‘simply’ shoot down planes.
And what about the drug lords? They will always find a new hub!
A selection of relevant publications from the Peace Palace Library collection
- Bennet, A., “That Sinking Feeling: Stateless Ships, Universal Jurisdiction, and the Drug Trafficking Vessel Interdiction Act”, Yale Journal of International Law, (37) 2012, No. 2, pp. 433-461.
- Bunck, J.M. and M.R. Fowler, Drug Trafficking and the Law in Latin America, University Park, PA, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012.
- Neuilly, M-A., “International Drug Trafficking”, in Kethineni, S. (ed.), Comparative and International Policing, Justice, and Transnational Crime, Durham, North Carolina, Carolina Academic Press, 2010, pp. 355-382.
- Taylor, B., “International Drug Trafficking: Threats, Challenges and Responses”, Global Review of Cyberlaw, (12) 2012, No. 1, pp. 1-30.