Carlos Arnoldo “El Negro”Lobo, a high-profile drug trafficker, has become the first Honduran extradited to the U.S.The extradition reportedly took place during the evening of May 8. Lobo, who is wanted by the U.S. Southern District Court of Florida, was arrested on March 27. The arrest represented a major victory for the country’s new president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, whose promises regarding citizen insecurity and crime were a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. Lobo’s lawyers tried to fight the Honduran court’s decision to send him to the U.S. but were unsuccessful.
Lobo had a well-established niche inmaritime drug traffickingand ties with various Latin American criminal syndicates. “El Negro” is accused of transporting cocaine forMexican, Guatemalan, and Honduran drug kingpins and organizations, including “the reputed leaderof the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin ‘Chapo’ Guzman […] and the Honduran drug trafficking organization Los Cachiros.”
Washington alsoaccuses Lobo of working with “Los Mellos de Cassandra”,two twins arrested in January 2013who ran a drug trafficking operation on San Andres island, a Colombian territory in the Caribbean. The twins were also involved in trafficking cocaine from theRastrojosorganization, a Colombian criminal syndicate.
Considering the high-octane natureof his career, Lobo was captured in a mundane way. For days, members of Honduras’ police force and Public Ministry had been following his movements around his mansion in San Pedro Sula (in the northwest region of the country). Lobo was arrested when he left his home to gogrocery shopping at a nearby bakeryandtransported via helicopter to the headquarters of theFirst Infantry Battalionin Tegucigalpa, where he remained until– asHonduran mediareports it — two helicopters took him on Thursday night to Palmerola, a U.S. military base in the Central American country.The State Departmenthailed Honduras’ decision to hand over Lobo to U.S. authorities.
Lobo’s capture is a victory with particular significance for Hernandez, who centered his campaign on a pledge to reduce Honduras’ high criminal rates. TheHonduran head of statelater (and somewhat smugly) remarked to the press, “That is why I tell people that if they do not want to have problems, it is very simple: Do not break the law, but rather, lead a respectful lifestyle.”
Given that Hernandez is keen to maintain the Washington-Tegucigalpa partnership, it came as no surprise that all 15 magistrates of Honduras’ Supreme Court of Justice voted unanimously to accept Washington’s extradition request for Lobo.
The extradition process, however, is not without controversy. Lobo’s planned extradition represents just one manifestation of a controversial amendment toArticle 102 of the Honduran constitutionwhich was passed in 2012 and which permits the extradition of Hondurans to other countries if they are wanted for crimes like drug trafficking, organized crime, and terrorism.
As for the future of maritime drug trafficking in Honduras, the country’s role as a transit nation for cocaine coming from South America to Mexico will not stop in spite of the government’s trumpeting of the capture or elimination of high-profile drug lords. Sadly, either a single person or multiple smaller drug runners will inevitably attempt to fill the vacuum left by Lobo.
Nevertheless, Lobo’s fall does give some initial hope that President Hernandez means business when it comes to making his nation more secure. It is likely that the Honduran head of state will continue to support the country’smilitary police, a 5,000-strong unit created to deal with violence and crime in the country. A much-needed policy goal: Hondurans want to live in a country that is not riddled with drug crimes and violence but their nation continues to rank as amurder capital of the world, which suggests that Hernandez will have a lot of leeway with the general populace for hard-on-crime policies, though skeptics will doubtless remain within the legal and political communities. Which lends all the more validity concerns that semi-omnipotent security agencies could promotehuman rights abusesin the Central American nation.