Is Nicaragua as Effective at Deterring Drug Trafficking as it Claims?

639x360_1387131546_LR ADOLFO ZEPEDA
Adolfo Zepeda, the inspector general for the Nicaraguan army

A top Nicaragua security official says a strategy known as the “wall of containment” has kept drug traffickers out, who instead flock to neighboring Honduras, a claim that seems questionable given the high levels of violence and reports of organized crime activity along the country’s Atlantic coast.

Adolfo Zepeda, the inspector general for the Nicaraguan army, said that while drug flights used to land in the country, constant surveillance operations have since deterred drug traffickers from entering Nicaragua’s air space, reported EFE.

Zepeda attributed this to “the efficiency of the strategy we have defined as the wall of containment,” a security ring intended to stop organized crime from infiltrating the country. He said the fact only 337 kilos of cocaine were seized in 2013 — half that captured in 2012 — showed less drugs were being trafficked through Nicaragua, reported the AFP.

Zepeda said criminal groups had responded by concentrating clandestine landing strips in parts of the Caribbean coastal zone of Honduras.

“Sadly, we have to admit that the territory of our brother country Honduras has fallen victim to the landing of drug flights,” he said.

Nicaragua, despite being one of the poorest countries in Central America, boasts one of the region’s lowest homicide rates, falling from 11 per 100,000 in 2012 to 9 per 100,000 in 2013. Officials there have long upheld their security model as one that has helped prevent the country from seeing the same levels of violent organized crime as found in the Northern Triangle of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

However, Nicaragua is not an oasis. Honduran officials recently claimed drug traffickers land flights on Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast and then make short flights into Honduras to avoid detection by recently installed radar. This same trafficking pattern was reported a year ago.

Nicaragua’s two Atlantic autonomous regions (the RAAN and RAAS), which are home to the Mosquito Coast, have also been exceptions to the rule in regard to violent crime, with murder rates far above the national average attributed to the presence of organized crime. Locals and authorities have noted the presence of Honduran drug traffickers and assassins in recent years.

The remoteness of the Mosquito Coast both makes it appealing to drug traffickers and extremely difficult for the Nicaraguan government to control, suggesting it is an exception to the success authorities are keen to promote.