Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 373 | Agosto 2012



Drug trafficking now has muscle and is generating a lot of money

Updated information and worrying reflections on the advances of drug trafficking activities in Nicaragua from an expert on security issues.

Roberto Orozco

Central America is currently considered the most violent region in the world, which has to do with the active presence of organized crime in our countries. The homicide rates rise year after year in the region; Honduras ranked highest last year with 86 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. This is no accident. It is due to the notable presence of organized crime in a country now more than ever considered Central America’s drug trafficking platform. Eighty percent of the air cargos of drugs go to Honduras, and more drugs set off for the United States from there than from any other country in our region.

When we talk about organized crime, everyone thinks only about drug trafficking, because it’s the most penetrating expression of it, the one that causes the most corruption in state institutions, moves the most money and is most undermining Central America’s democratic security. But we need to be clear that many other expressions of organized crime in Central America have nothing to do with drug trafficking. In Nicaragua, for example, the illegal trafficking of lumber from the Caribbean region has an important dimension. This illicit activity has penetrated all the institutions involved in safeguarding, supervising, transporting, distributing and selling precious woods. And it is a crime that has been causing deaths for years, although they may not attract attention because they weren’t victims of drug trafficking.

Another example is the theft of telephone and electricity cables, a crime practiced all across the national territory. It has an entire organized framework behind it, ranging from those who do the stealing and selling to accomplices in the state institutions that own the materials and equipment.

Drug trafficking in Central America’s
Caribbean and Pacific coast regions

But I’m only going to talk about drug trafficking here. I’ve previously talked about it having already penetrated Nicaragua’s social fabric and achieving social legitimacy. I showed how that legitimization was expressed most clearly in the indigenous communities on the Caribbean Coast where the international drug trafficking structures were being established. There are communities in that extensive area of Nicaragua that have been abandoned by the State and are economically extremely vulnerable, where the people have never had economic structures that allow them to exploit their fishing, lumber and rich natural resources for their own benefit. All they’ve known are projects to exploit those resources, which come, extract the resources, dispossess the community, thus further impoverishing it, then leave, plow¬ing nothing back into the communities for their inhabitants.

But drug trafficking doesn’t operate that way. It leaves a lot of money in the communities. The drug trafficking groups operating in the Nicaraguan Caribbean are mainly Colombian, coming to our shores from the San Andrés islands. They come loaded with money and pay the inhabitants for their services, which involve providing fuel, food and above all security and temporary shelter. For years drug trafficking has been developing a lot of muscle all along Central America’s Caribbean coast, because they know they can exploit the conditions of abandonment and poverty by injecting economic resources into the communities. At the end of the day, the inhabitants aren’t defending drug trafficking, they’re defending those economic resources. That’s why we say that drug trafficking has achieved social legitimization in those communities.

The dominant groups in Central America’s Pacific region are Mexican, particularly the Sinaloa cartel, which has managed to displace others that have also operated here, including the Michoacan Family, the Zetas and the Gulf cartel. In 2011, a special edition of the Mexican magazine Proceso, titled “The faces of drug trafficking,” called the Sinaloa cartel the “PAN cartel” because of rumors in Mexico that the National Action Party (PAN) government, just defeated in the country’s general elections on July 1, has “managed” the drug trafficking, providing and withdrawing support of specific structures. That decision is what has generated the war we’re currently seeing in Mexico, which is in fact a war among cartels for hegemony and control over territories and involves internal struggles caused by loyalties and disloyalties.

Due to the support it has apparently received in Mexico, the Sinaloa cartel has been consolidating itself throughout Central America’s Pacific region, including Nicaragua, where important structures are already supporting it. The social legitimization that drug trafficking has achieved, the social and economic vulnerability of many indigenous and rural communities and the fragility of our institutions and our democratic system have all enabled drug trafficking to develop so much muscle throughout the isthmus.

The groups in the Central American countries

There are seven big groups in Guatemala that we could call mini-cartels. I wouldn’t like to call them cartels, because that conjures up the idea of Colombia and Mexico and of stronger transnational structures with more money. Guatemala’s are basically family groups or groups with family links that have structured themselves for the drug business and acquired so much power that they dominate the rural area where they are based as well as the neighboring population centers. They each dominate specific areas of Guatemala. One of them, the Lorenzana group, was weakened in 2011 when government forces captured the boss and his three sons, who controlled the whole structure. But that led to the splintering of the group and its multiplication, as often happens in such cases. The secondary and tertiary heads of the structure go on to dominate other areas and new cartels emerge. In addition to the Lorenzana group are the Zacapa group, the Sayajché group, the Luciano group (which basically operates in Retalhuleu and Suchitepéquez), the Mendoza group, the Salteño group and the León group. All these names represent a surname and all the groups are involved in very sizable activities.

Eleven groups structured around this business are operating in our neighboring country, Honduras, and have developed a degree of strength that has turned Honduras into our region’s main platform for drugs, from which they are transported to Mexico and the United States. The Honduran groups are those from the Bay Islands, Cape Gracias a Dios, Colón, Copán, El Florido, Valle de Sico, Palacios, Belén, Bruce Laguna, Olancho and Ánimas, named for the areas they dominate.

El Salvador, meanwhile, has three big groups—the Texis, Santa Ana and Gulf groups—although there are probably other smaller ones.

We have 25 groups in Nicaragua. Where is this information from? The Strategic Studies and Public Policy Institute (IEEPP), where I work, is just an NGO, not a governmental authority and we don’t have access to intelligence information. But we’ve been building up that and other information based on local monitoring and using the public data the state institutions themselves produce. Following the meeting of Central American police chiefs in April of this year, Nicaragua’s National Police Director, First Commissioner Aminta Granera, declared that her force’s priority in the Pacific area is to break up 17 criminal bands that support international drug trafficking. Those 17 plus the 4 in the northern Caribbean and 4 in the southern Caribbean total 25 national groups supporting international drug trafficking in the four compass points where drugs pass. Six of them alone operate in the department of Rivas.

The groups on our Caribbean Coast

The groups in the northern Caribbean are in Sandy Bay and Bismuna, and in Bilwi, the region’s capital city, where Kelvin Morris, currently facing trial, was chief so the group is called the Morrises. The fourth group is named after the Müllers and also operates in Bilwi. Yet another is the Mendoza group, but it is rumored to have shifted to Honduras. One of the Mendozas, together with someone with the surname Fagoth (reportedly no relation of Stedman, the controversial coast leader), was responsible for linking all the groups in this area.

The group run by Kelvin Morris, one of the wealthiest people in Bilwi, generated a lot of violence and was responsible for various homicides in 2011. Morris was caught in May of this year and it remains to be seen if his group will fragment. I was in Bilwi when I heard about the operation against him so I went to check it out. The house where Morris was living was raided by the Army.

That was the first time I saw the Army involved in police activities, in this case raiding with a search and arrest warrant, and gathering intelligence information… I want to stress this. The Army has been sending the message for about three months now that they, not the National Police, are heading up the fight against drugs in Nicaragua. This started in mid-June in Carlos Fernando Chamorro’s interviews of Nicaraguan Navy chief Roger González and Army Intelligence chief Adolfo Zepeda on his TV program Esta Semana. Since then all high-ranking Army officers have repeated that it’s the army fighting against drug trafficking here, not the police. That really caught my attention because, if we read between the lines, it could be that the police are being relegated to a secondary level in this fight.

In the South Atlantic Autonomous Region, four groups dominate the whole area from Bluefields down to San Juan de Nicaragua. They include the Reñazcos, who live in the city of Bluefields and were linked to the murder of four officers at the Bluefields police headquarters in 2004 in a crime that shocked the country and shook the National Police. In addition there are the Herreras, who also live in Bluefields, and the Aragóns, known as the Tarzans, who triggered the border conflict with Costa Rica when it was alleged that the Nicaraguan Army entered Costa Rican territory during an operation against them.

The powerful Ted Hyman group was dismantled in Bluefields in June of this year. The group committed seven homicides between 2010 and 2011, some classified as assassinations and all linked with internal drug trafficking. In addition to supporting the international trafficking of drugs, the group had organized a kind of local hit man operation at the service of retail drug dealers in Bluefields, contracting peasants with military experience to kill people either because they had stolen their drugs or had betrayed them to the police, or just to achieve hegemonic control over the city. It controlled the distribution and sale of drugs in Bluefields and supplied a large part of the cocaine sold in the cities of the Pacific region, especially Managua, which is the main market. Hyman’s group came to have such an important domination over the city of Bluefields, its authorities and the domestic drugs trade that we can consider it a cartel of national relevance.

Although Nicaragua as a whole has a relatively low homicide rate, similar to those of Costa Rica and Panama, the groups in the southern Caribbean region were responsible for a homicide rate in that area of 42.7 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011. That’s even well above the national rate of 38.7 per 100,000 inhabitants for the same year in Guatemala, one of the three most violent countries in Central America.

Drug trafficking and the arms trade

An enormously important issue is the relationship between drug trafficking and arms. A 2007 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study concluded that drug trafficking is the big international structure linked to international arms trafficking. But our research gives us another perception. Drug trafficking doesn’t need to move large amounts of arms to ensure security. The studies of cases in Central America have demonstrated that large drug consignments aren’t guarded by many weapons. They might come with two or three pistols, an M-16, an AK, but a big drug shipment doesn’t come with a big consignment of arms, as the IDB study would have us believe. And the reason is that today’s drug trafficking feeds off the legal sale of arms in each Central American country it passes through.

There are no armed conflicts in Central America anymore and, when there were, the big arms importers were States themselves, mainly the Nicaraguan State. Large amounts of arms remained in Nicaragua at the end of the war so there was a large-scale illegal trafficking in arms during the 1990s, particularly to Colombia to support the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army), but eventually that stock of arms ran out. Now, as in all other Central American countries, the big importer of arms in Nicaragua is the legal trade, and it is indirectly arming drug trafficking groups, as the case studies demonstrate.

One recent example was a Honduran pilot working for La Costeña airline who came to Masaya bringing ten licensed automatic 9 mm Glock pistols. He left through a blind spot in the Honduran Mosquito Coast and the drug trafficking cell there had ten new pistols to operate with. In 2011, two big lots of small light arms captured in Spain were destined for Nicaragua as illegal contraband to feed the country’s legal arms trade.

So in conclusion, the legal trade promotes illegal arms trafficking to a certain extent. And it’s the legal economy that’s feeding the mafia structures operating in the region.

The economic explanation for drug trafficking

All of the national groups that work with international drug trafficking generate earnings, but we can’t measure how much. What we can put a value on are their properties, but calculating the drug profits behind this and how much of the economy they move is very difficult. We’d have to design a methodological instrument to measure it, if indeed it can be measured.

A couple of years ago we calculated that our capital city of Managua was producing earnings of around US$170,000 a week for the people selling drugs here. That amounts to about US$8.16 million a year, and represents 0.13% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Bearing this in mind, we can say that Nicaragua has a growing drugs economy and there are beginning to be calculations of what this activity accounts for in the national GDP. Naturally these percentages don’t remotely compare with what the same activity is generating in Mexico: annual profits of US$41 billion a year, outstripping the profits from oil exports. That is 47% of Mexico’s formal GDP, according to the conclusions of international studies conducted in that country.

In our research we’re trying to understand the drug trafficking phenomenon from the perspective of economic theory, which I think is the best way of explaining organized crime. For me, penal theory has its limits when it comes to understanding this phenomenon because it is simply explains the criminal classifications generated by organized crime and harmonizes them with the official policy that prosecutes those crimes. But economic theory explains the phenomenon from a more comprehensive point of view, for example by explaining the economic opportunity factor, which combined with a criminal environment becomes an important incentive for the development of organized crime activities. Opportunity is a key factor in understanding how an organized crime structure is set up. There’s a wealth of opportunities in our countries: the weakness of security institutions, the weakness and incapacity of the justice institutions, the lack of state presence in certain areas and the poverty suffered by most of the population…

A profit motive in a climate of poverty

Poverty isn’t an essential factor for generating common crimes, as demonstrated in Nicaragua, which is the poorest country in Central America but has good security levels. But it is a very important factor for organized crime, because drug trafficking provides poor people with a very big incentive, one that’s hard to refuse unless the people involved have deep-rooted human, educational and family values. It isn’t easy to reject the economic incentive, the opportunity for immediate wealth offered by drug trafficking.

Let’s take a look at the specifics: a kilo of cocaine is worth US$8,500 in Managua. A cocaine dealer is taught how to bautizar [baptize] the cocaine, which is Nicaraguan drug talk for cutting it with other substances. As a result the dealer gets two more kilos from the original one, so he gets US$25,500, a 200% profit, on each kilo he buys. Having a monthly income of 80,000 córdobas (about US$3,400) or more, just like that is an immediate profit incentive for someone who had nothing. The authorities can’t fight such an incentive just with policies of prohibition.

Hardening prohibition but
also reducing vulnerabilities

We in IEEPP think that state prohibition, an iron fist against criminal organizations, is important, but it has to be accompanied by a comprehensive process to reduce social and economic vulnerabilities, including education and job creation. Prohibition may alleviate the problem somewhat, but unless there are economic transformations the incentive will always be there. I personally believe that the drug trafficking phenomenon is ineradicable and that the best that can be hoped for is to reduce it to its minimum expression.

We don’t agree with an iron fist policy against youth gangs and groups, in the sense of criminalizing youth and violating their human rights. But in the case of drug trafficking, which generates so much violence, we do agree with the State hardening its prohibition measures, although it must always respect human rights, because the State’s actions are only legitimized by doing so. However, alongside a hard hand, social and economic measures must be proposed and provided that benefit the communities and reduce vulnerabilities.

In Nicaragua, the State must look for and ensure productive and economic incentives for the communities on the Caribbean Coast, promoting economic projects that benefit them. All of this has already been established in Law 445 (Law of the Communal Ownership Regime for the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities of the Autonomous Regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua and for the Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maíz Rivers), but it hasn’t been complied with. Economic incentives have to be created to distance the most impoverished communities from the economic incentive of linking up with drug trafficking.

Drug trafficking runs
deep in Central America

We’ve been fighting drug trafficking for 40 years now and during that time things have only gotten worse. Forty years ago the United States started this drug war with a single anti-drug agency. Today, it has 72 and the situation is still getting worse, while the US budget to sustain those agencies keeps on growing. That’s why the idea of legalizing drug consumption has emerged; it’s an attempt to find a more efficient policy, but that’s a very complex proposal that I’m not going to look at here.

Because the incentive generated by drug trafficking is of an economic nature, it has really run deep. That incentive is the determining reason drug trafficking has penetrated the Central American social fabric, managed to legitimize itself and built such an extensive logistical base that it now has 40 local drug-trafficking support groups already organized in the region. It’s why drug trafficking has developed so much national muscle and is generating a lot of money in Central America.

Let’s take a look at some figures that demonstrate this in Nicaragua’s case. In November 2010 I did a count of the people linked to drug trafficking who had been captured in Nicaragua between 2004 and 2009. Let’s update those figures. In 2009 a total of 4,646 people were captured, of whom 4% were foreigners. The next year, 4,872 were captured, and only 2.2% were foreigners. And last year, 3,378 were caught, with a similar percentage of foreigners: 2.5%.

This suggests that fewer foreigners are participating in drug trafficking. One possible deduction that can be made from these data is that Nicaraguans are very probably now taking charge of the business, leaving increasingly fewer Mexicans, Colombians and Guatemalans and more Nicaraguans in those 25 support groups. If true, it means that international drug traffickers are already entrusting the handling and transport to Nicaraguans.

That’s something we need to pay a lot of attention to, because the foreign factor isn’t what damages the security of the State in any country where drug trafficking structures have been developed; it’s the national one. In the eighties we didn’t see a single Mexican or Central American waging war on the Colombian State. It was all Colombians, including Pablo Escobar, who put the State in check with their narco-terrorism activities. And currently we aren’t seeing Colombians or Central Americans putting the Mexican State in check; Mexicans are doing that. And those killing people in Honduras aren’t Mexicans, but Hondurans. Hondurans themselves are the ones who have caused that country’s very high homicide rate of 86 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Other countries may be much worse,
but we still have security problems

The World Health Organization and other international organizations have identified that a society is healthy in crime terms when the homicide rate is under 8.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. When it passes 10 it starts to be considered an epidemic problem. In Nicaragua we have a rate of 12, which is therefore more than three percent over the international standard. In other words, we have a sick society in security and crime terms.

Our police force identifies the reduction in the country’s homicide rate as a “great success,” and it’s true that falling rates is good news. But when talking about this reduction recently, Comissioner Granera stated that Nicaragua’s homicide rate was better than Costa Rica’s, which isn’t true: Costa Rica has 10.3 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 12 in Nicaragua. So on this point, Nicaragua is not the safest country in Central America, although we have better security levels than Panama and far better than the countries of the “Northern Triangle” (El Salvador, Guate¬mala and Honduras).

Let’s take a look at some other figures: the amount of cocaine being seized has been dropping in Nicaragua. The most productive year for confiscating drugs was 2008, when the Nicaraguan authorities managed to seize 15.3 tons of cocaine. In 2009, that figure fell by nearly half to 8.1 tons. In 2010 it increased a little to 10.4 tons, but in 2011 it almost halved again to 6.9 tons.

Marihuana is the illegal drug most consumed in Nicaragua, followed by crack and then cocaine. Nicaragua is a marihuana producing country. There’s production in the Mining Triangle (the area around the towns of Siuna, Bonanza and Rosita), Bosawás, Waslala and Terrabona. In 2011, the National Police destroyed almost 4,000 marihuana plants and seized nearly 700 kilos of marihuana and a large amount of seeds for production. Different structures are used for marihuana trafficking than for cocaine trafficking; each has its own characteristics, although in the retail market they both converge in the same place: the narcotics outlet.

Nicaraguan security institutions
in a disproportionate struggle

First Commissioner Aminta Granera has explained that the policy of the Nicaraguan security institutions is to hit the national structures to keep them from developing so much that they can successfully move the drugs through the territory, at the same time trying to make it too costly for the international drug traffickers to use our national territory, forcing them back out to sea so the drugs don’t enter. The reason is that when international drug traffickers use a national platform as their route, part of the drugs stay in the country. For example, if they are transporting 1,500 kilos of cocaine, the goal is for 1,200 to reach the US market, with 300 distributed among their necessary collaborators in Central America.

The foreign traffickers pay the 25 national groups supporting international drug trafficking in Nicaragua today in drugs. To turn that cocaine into liquid money they circulate it in the Nicaraguan market. To end that cycle, the police strategy is to break up the transnational trafficking and hit the national bands.

Although it’s an interesting strategy that could provide results, the imbalance in the effort has to be taken into account. Annual cocaine production has remained at around 950 tons over the last seven years. Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru all produce it, with the latter two countries the major producers. The traffickers need to sell that total production on the international market, and that means principally the United States.

To get to the United States, all drugs that come in to Panama have to pass through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras or El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. According to data from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 90% of that total amount (855 tons), passes through Central American territory. If we take away the roughly 20% (171 tons) seized every year by the Central American authorities, that leaves 684 tons crossing Central American territory. In other words, an enormous volume of cocaine passes through Nicaragua every year.

This is a big enough economic incentive to keep the national support groups alive and ensure they don’t disappear. If one is busted, three sprout up; if three are busted, six sprout up. As I said, the State’s prohibition policy as a way of fighting the local structures is good, but socioeconomic measures need to be included to stop the busted cells from just fracturing and becoming new ones. Without those other measures, the busts won’t be very effective. Because the economic incentive is so enormous, taking it on is a disproportionate, gigantic struggle.

The narcotics economy and money laundering

How much weight does the drug trade have in the Central American economy? We don’t know. How much of the Central American GDP is now coming from the narcotics economy? We don’t know that either yet. How much money laundering is there in Nicaragua? Very superficially, we can assume that drug money is being laundered here. Some say it’s impossible because our financial system is so small it could be immediately detected when a large amount of drug money is injected into the national banks. But what about in foreign banks? Others argue that drug profits are laundered through commercial contraband and that wealthy Nicaraguans who do this have their money in banks in the Caiman Islands’ offshore tax haven.

Another activity through which we could suspect that drug trafficking money is being laundered in Nicaragua is the building of luxury residences. I recently saw a program on the Fox Life television channel featuring the most luxurious residences in the world, and alongside houses in the French Riviera and the Canary Islands were residences in San Juan del Sur worth US$3 million, US$1.2 million, US$800,000… and there are foreigners who come to buy these houses here.

The construction and sale of such houses is on a roll in Nicaragua. Houses priced at US$2 million are being sold today all over the outskirts of Managua. So who’s buying these houses, which aren’t just three or four scattered around, but rather whole condominiums? Let’s suppose government officials buy them. How many officials can afford to do so?

Maybe money laundering can explain it. The reality is that money laundering is now injecting resources into the Nicaraguan economy. To repeat, drug trafficking in Nicaragua has already developed muscle and long arms, and is generating money. And even though we may not be able to establish how that money is being laundered, it’s happening; a lot of money is being laundered here.

The possible impacts of the UAF…

A new entity, the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF), has just been approved in Nicaragua to detect money laundering. The results have been very positive in all countries in which similar institutions have been created, including Panama, where one was recently created, and Ecuador, where one was created a year ago. An institution such as the UAF is really necessary in countries like Nicaragua, which are on the drug trafficking route. But the IEEPP has looked closely at the speedy non-consensual way the law was promulgated and at certain aspects of this new unit. One of the aspects that most concerns us is that the institutions that make it up will be governed by the Army, which will coordinate all of its investigative activity.

Having the Army head up the country’s financial intelligence has exasperated many national sectors. This is because the UAF must be a specialized body consisting of auditors, financiers, experts in banking matters, people who know the world of finances and can therefore generate financial intelligence. The Nicaraguan Army doesn’t have that capacity or specialty and its handling could be discretional. The UAF is a body that’s needed in Nicaragua, but it’s not going to function adequately the way it has been designed. We believe that the prudent thing wouldn’t be to reform this law, but rather to repeal it and design a new one, but I don’t believe the conditions exist for that to happen.

…and of an interoceanic canal

The government also announced recently that Nicaragua is preparing to build a Grand Interoceanic Canal, and some people are worried that this new route will be exploited by international drug trafficking. I think the canal is just a hypothesis and don’t believe it will actually be built because nobody, including the State, has presented financial feasibility studies. But if it is, whether as a dry canal (a railroad or highway) or wet as a water canal, the illegal drug trade would naturally exploit it.

You have to bear in mind that the illegal drug trade always exploits the developed infrastructure in any country, using its established air, land and sea routes and doing so by corrupting those who control them. The notion that it moves through the jungles, hiding in far-flung places is erroneous. If a canal was to be built here, drug traffickers would use it, just as they use the Panama Canal.

The Cabral-Fariñas case exposed corruption
and the penetration of drug trafficking

Let’s now analyze some of the facts from the most recent drug trafficking case, the Cabral-Fariñas-Osuna case, which is also the most conflictive and revealing. In July 2011 Argentine singer-songwriter Facundo Cabral was shot dead in Guatemala, although he wasn’t the target: the bullets were meant for Nicaraguan nightclub owner Henry Fariñas, who was driving the vehicle in which Cabral was traveling. Fariñas was known in Central America as a businessman who ran «high class» strip joints. According to official versions, Costa Rican drug trafficker Alejandro Jiménez, alias El Palidejo [Paleface], contracted hit men to kill Fariñas, but he ended up only wounded. Based on these events, which everyone in Nicaragua knows about, we have come to understand many things that were previously covered up.

Unfortunately it took Cabral’s death for Nicaragua to realize the extent of the internal corruption and the penetration of drug trafficking in our institutions. The first revelation that emerged was that drug trafficking has already penetrated state institutions such as our Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), with the media also suggesting that the National Police has also been penetrated, although the police authorities deny this.

Henry Fariñas was caught in Nicaragua eight months after Cabral’s death. Why did it take so long? Merely in terms of preventive action, the National Police should have captured him as soon as he returned to the country following the attack so they could interrogate him, as it was known right from the beginning that he, not Cabral, was the intended target. Being a Nicaraguan and known as a successful Central American businessman, the police must have been interested in knowing his connections in Nicaragua. So why didn’t they bring him in for interrogation to get information out of him? Or did they do so without our knowing about it? All we know is that after recovering from his wounds, Fariñas went around Nicaragua quite happily and it was only following pressure from Argentina and then Guatemala and when the case finally reached Interpol that they decided to capture him here so he wouldn’t be caught in another country. They decided it was better to have him under lock and key in Nicaragua, so it would appear that his arrest was aimed more at preventing a bigger scandal that might have reached Nicaragua from the outside. Fariñas’ family has also hinted at this.

Was Osuna used to divert attention from
the alleged “parallel structure” in the police?

Once in prison, Fariñas started talking; he charged that a “parallel structure” linked to the illegal drug trade was operating within the National Police and threatening him not to speak. Fariñas’ denunciation may have been blackmail, a kind of “if you throw me to the lions I’ll reveal the parallel structure,” or could be interpreted as the declaration of a resentful drug trafficker. But even if Fariñas is a drug trafficker, as alleged, it doesn’t necessarily make his accusation false.

When Fariñas denounced this and the media picked up on it, the situation became extremely delicate for the National Police, which appears to have wanted to divert public attention away from the accusation and refocus it in another direction. If we analyze the time line in the Cabral case we can see that just three days after Fariñas talked about the parallel structure, the National Police arrested CSE alternate magistrate Julio César Osuna in a great show of publicity, accusing him of being linked to El Palidejo’s narcotics group, in which Fariñas is supposedly involved. The media immediately stopped talking about Fariñas’ charge and concentrated on the Osuna case, considering it emblematic of drug trafficking in Nicaragua, without realizing that they were neglecting an even more serious charge that stopped being talked about after the Osuna case broke.

The police detained Osuna, accusing him of involvement in drug trafficking based on a legal certificate of constitution for a corporation Osuna had set up with David Patrón, a Mexican citizen linked to the group of Mexican drug traffickers known as Los Charros. But this certificate had been in circulation since before Cabral was killed and had even been published by the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa.

Drug trafficking corrupts from the top

To better understand how organized crime works and how it penetrates States, I would recommend reading the Uruguayan-US researcher, writer, analyst, jurist and security expert Edgardo Buscaglia, whose team has conducted 150 research studies in 40 countries, including Italy, Japan, Mexico, Colombia and China. It was Buscaglia who in a CNN interview challenged Mexican President Felipe Calderón to demonstrate that his government and the Mexican State had not been infiltrated by drug trafficking.

The conclusions of this man’s scientific and empirical research demonstrate that drug trafficking corrupts from the top down, never from the bottom up. It penetrates the social fabric from the bottom, but corrupts institutions from the top. The Convention of Palermo, which is a very good text, establishes that to be considered as such, an organized crime cell has to be structured, must have been doing that activity for a certain amount of time and must generate profits for itself. For that to occur, drug trafficking needs to have penetrated the state institutions. And to penetrate them it corrupts the highest representatives of the justice and security institutions.

Those conclusions have already been demonstrated throughout Central America and we’re now also seeing them clearly demonstrated in Nicaragua. We already have evidence that Central America is an area in which narco-politics has been increasing, and it’s simple to prove. Just google the words “diputados PARLACEN narcotráfico” (PARLACEN representatives drug trafficking) and it’ll give you three public cases of Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) representatives linked to drug trafficking. Drug traffickers managed to put these three representatives into the institutions of the Central American Integration System (SICA). There was also evidence that Guatemalan politicians were involved in the case of the bus carrying drugs that was set on fire, killing many Nicaraguans and a Dutch citizen.

You should also read in the Salvadoran digital paper El Faro about the case of the Texis cartel, which is the most powerful one in El Salvador and has been involved in drug trafficking activities for the longest time in that country. Its report provides a masters class on how national cartels operate in our territories. Why has the Texis cartel never been busted? Why, despite the fact that three intelligence reports by the Salvadoran State on its activities were given to the President of El Salvador has no case against that cartel ever gotten anywhere in the last ten years? According to El Faro, which says it got hold of one of these reports when it was leaked by a minister who was tired of warning about this without being listened to, the cartel is made up of certain Salvadoran parliamentary representatives. But even now that this information is public, nothing has happened because the cartel’s connections are so high up it can’t be touched.

The Cabral-Fariñas-Osuna case
shows penetration at the highest levels

I don’t believe that magistrate Osuna has been the “drug king” in Nicaragua. I think he saw an opportunity in the illegal drug trade, got involved and things went seriously wrong for him. But I don’t believe he was the only person involved or even the head of that structure in Nicaragua along with Fariñas. Nor do I believe he was acting on his own. Being just an alternate magistrate, I don’t think he could have had enough internal power to falsify so many Nicaraguan ID cards for so many drug traffickers. That’s impossible.

The main lesson from the Cabral-Fariñas-Osuna case is the number of indicators it provides of just how penetrated our institutions already are as a result of drug trafficking, and at the highest levels. When La Prensa and certain television channels presented photos of Henry Fariñas’ sisters cuddling up with various police commissioners, First Commissioner Aminta Granera initially denied that those photos implied any penetration of the police by drug trafficking and said this was limited to the world of personal relationships, arguing that they had nothing to do with the institution she heads. But shortly afterwards, in an interview with InSight Crime when it visited Nicaragua, she admitted that the Fariñas sisters were “girlfriends” of those commissioners. In other words, it wasn’t just a friendship, but rather an intimate relationship. So the police chief was employing a double discourse, saying one thing in Nicaragua and another to these foreigners. We still don’t know why.

I don’t have any intelligence information, so if I meet up with a friend ten years after I last saw him, I have no reason to know or to ask what he does to earn his living. But a National Police commissioner does have information and needs to know who he’s socializing with because he has to manage intelligence information. National Police officers are obliged to know this under Law 228, their disciplinary regime and their professional ethics regime, which are three institutional instruments that refer to an international instrument known as the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials. All of these laws oblige them to be careful of whom they socialize with. Their uniform, their investiture and their authority oblige them to carefully select their friendships and intimate relationships. This is another reason I think the Cabral case has put the Nicaraguan Police through its worst moment.

Another important fact in this case is that the National Police never gave us even a minimal explanation of the Fariñas sisters’ relationship with the various commissioners; even though the photos in La Prensa were so suggestive, they didn’t even mention any plans to investigate to apportion responsibilities. Not even that. The police never bothered to do anything. It would appear not to be important to it as an institution to provide explanations to the citizenry.

Roberto Orozco is a researcher with the Strategic Studies and Public Policies Institute (IEEPP).

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