Honduran Authorities Believe Secret Landing Strip Used By Drug Smugglers

Honduran authorities said Monday that they have discovered a secret landing strip on property once owned by a murdered congressman suspected of trafficking in precursor chemicals for methamphetamine.

Almost any size aircraft would have been able to land on the 980-yard strip found on the cattle ranch near the western border with Guatemala, said Julian Gonzalez, anti-narcotics director of the national attorney general's office. The strip was still under construction, however, and had not been used, he said.

The ranch had been owned by Mario Hernandez, a lawmaker killed by unknown gunmen in November 2008. Three days before his death, France seized $7 million worth of pseudoephedrine shipped by a company Hernandez owned. The company had been a front for providing pseudoephedrine to drug cartels, Gonzalez said.

Shortly before his death, Hernandez sold the farm to his driver, Gonzalez said. He said investigators believe the property -- known around town as the "Mexican ranch" -- was used by drug traffickers tied to Mexico's powerful Sinaloa cartel.

Employees of the ranch were being questioned Monday.

Honduras is a key transit country for drug smuggling, which authorities believe has increased since the United States limited military cooperation to protest the June 28 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

Pseudoephedrine smuggling increased in the Central American country last year after Mexico banned importation and domestic use of the chemical, authorities said. Honduras imposed a similar ban earlier this year.

Police have said more aircraft carrying drugs from South America have landed in Honduras since the coup, and Honduran security forces have been unable to stop the planes without the help of U.S. helicopters and radar technology.