Honduras’ crackdown on the drug trade has netted the Central American nation not just tons of seized illegal drugs and locked a number of narco-traffickers into handcuffs, it also has made the government the proud owner of a bunch of maritime prizes.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández on Saturday announced that the country will soon be repurposing boats seized while ferrying drugs along the Pacific coast and using them to ferry tourists through the scenic Gulf of Fonseca instead.
General Freddy Díaz of the Honduran Armed Forces has been tasked with repairing and refitting the drug boats for use in the country’s budding tourism industry in a move that President Hernández hopes "will build a good deal of micro-businesses" in a region known for both its poverty and as a source of conflict between Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, which have disputes about territorial waters and who controls which islands.
The boats will be used to transport tourists in the Gulf of Fonseca, an area that includes a number of nature reserves. The main ferry hub would be Coyolito, a fishing village surrounded by the San Lorenzo nature reserve that serves as the gateway to the Honduran islands in the Gulf. The government is envisioning that the final final destination will be La Isla Coneja (Rabbit Island), a speck of land that El Salvador and Honduras both claim.
Hernández’s announcement about the boats came as part of a speech about development in the Gulf of Fonseca region, which will also see the construction of a highway from the country’s northern Caribbean coast to the Pacific.
Hernández is asking the Inter-American Development Bank to finance the construction of a bridge linking Amapala on La Isla del Tigre to Coyolito on the mainland.
In recent years Honduras – thanks to its porous borders, lightly-patrolled coasts and weak central government - has become a major thoroughfare for traffickers bringing cocaine and other illegal drugs from South America to Mexico and the United States.
Combating the drug trade and its accompanying violence was a major campaign promise for Hernández, and since taking office in January he has stepped up the use of the military to fight traffickers. In August, authorities seized more than 50 properties that they claim belong to Los Valles gang, and in September 2013, the country seized $800 million of properties from another gang, Los Cachiros – including hotels, luxury houses, gas stations and the biggest zoo in Honduras, which houses lions, tigers, giraffes and hippos.