Coke-filled Sub Busted off Honduran Coast

Almost seven tons of coke were brought to Florida last week.

They were seized in a submarine caught by the Coast Guard after being spotted off the coast of Gracias a Dios.

According to a story on bbc.com, a C-130 fixed-wing aircraft first spotted the self-propelled semi-submersible close to the water’s surface on July 13.

A Coast Guard cutter was called to intercept the vessel, after US Customs and Border Protection crews also noticed it.

The sub-smugglers jumped into life rafts after pulling a valve inside the craft to sink it with the narcotics on board, Coast Guard Lt Patrick Montgomery told the BBC.

“This is the biggest blow to drug trafficking” in the country’s history, armed forces General Rene Osorio told reporters.

Honduran authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard had discovered 2.8 tons of cocaine through Thursday in initial searches of the wreckage, located at a depth of 36 meters (118 feet) off the country’s eastern coast, Osorio said, adding that another 4.5 tons were found on Friday.

Coast Guard crews took the vessel’s five crew members into custody and were able to retrieve a small portion of the cocaine before the vessel sank.

Osorio said Washington has asked that the seized drugs and the four crew members of the semi-submersible craft arrested two weeks ago – a Honduran and three Colombians, all unindentified – be turned over to them for prosecution in the United States.

But Osorio said his country’s Foreign Ministry will request that the Honduran be tried in his homeland.

“The Coast Guard is always on the lookout for anything that looks suspicious in the water, and that definitely includes 15,000 pounds of drugs,”  Montgomery said.

These semi-submersibles — usually built in Colombian jungles and sent through Pacific waters — occasionally get nabbed. This is the first one caught near Roatan.

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Open, Sesame!

How Many Politicians Does It Take To Open a Shipping Container?

BY JEFF STRATTON

four keys to open them

Shortly before 2:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon, a screaming siren emerged from Thicket Mouth Road and made its way to the parking lot outside of Sun/Pizza Inn/Bojangles, where a brown shipping container was surrounded by a phalanx of cameramen, reporters, and local officials.

The cop car shut down its sirens. TV cameras were shouldered.

A big white Hummer and a few other shiny SUVs pulled up, and out spilled Rosa Elena de Lobo (the wife of Honduran President Pepe Lobo), mayor Julio Galindo, deputado Romeo Silvestri, and governor Shawn Hyde.

The first lady was accompanied by at least two members of the presidential security detail, complete with those little ear-transmitter thingies and the blank, slightly menacing expressions you’d see on the faces of U.S. Secret Service agents.

Armed local police and Cobras surrounded the surreal scene. About 35 people were on hand to see the container unlocked.

In less than 30 seconds, Hyde popped open the four padlocks. The first items visible were massive desks and filing cabinets, but clearly the container was full.

“Isn’t this amazing?” asked a gringo bystander. “They hold it up for months, and then open it with all the cameras here!”

It’s true, at least four TV cameras were jostling for the best angles, but the hold-up was paperwork from the mainland, not foot-dragging by local officials.

The first lady and mayor were interviewed by TV crews.

Nurse Peggy Stranges showed up with a poker face. She and the mayor looked over the manifest. He asked her to sit tight until Monday so the list could be looked over and the items divvied up (3/4 of the items are reported to be for the public hospital, though the items are differentiated clearly on paper and color-coded in the container ).

“Relieved” is how Peggy described her feelings.

We’ll be staying on this and bringing you more news on Monday. For now, two positive events have occurred: Clinica Esperanza is open, and the container has been opened.

UPDATE: Nurse Peggy Rebuffed After Requesting 5-Minute Meeting With First Lady

BY JEFF STRATTON

According to those working with a very frustrated Peggy Stranges, a contingent of staff paid a visit this morning to the West Bay hotel room of Honduran First Lady Rosa Elena de Lobo, requesting her assistance in obtaining the two documents the clinic needs to keep operating.

After asking her security guards for a short meeting to see if any help could be provided, the First Lady left without speaking to Peggy.

Here’s a great post from Living_In_Honduras by the ever-erudite and intrepid blogger, La Gringa:

“That is incredible. I hope that this gets a lot of coverage. I can’t believe that the gov’t couldn’t even be shamed into doing the right thing. This needs some publicity in the newspapers. Have you all from Roatan thought of taking out a full page ad in some of the newspapers denouncing this?

a few minutes later she posted:

“You need to get it in the national news. None of the NGOs EVER want to expose the corruption and incompetence that goes on because they are afraid of the gov’t — in effect, enabling the corruption. It seems that there is nothing to lose in this case.”

Who knows if there’s a coincidence yet, or if there is any effective way to shame the government into fixing the problem. While this situation does have parallels with RAS Express/Gil Garcia and the gasket he blew over customs delays and red tape, it’s crucial to note that these are perishable, sterile pieces of medical equipment that are needed desperately on Roatan — and have been sitting in a shipping container for more than three months now.

Miami Telecom Chief Pleads Guilty of Bribing Hondutel Officials

Jorge Granados Enters Guilty Plea, Faces Five Years and $250,000 Fine

BY JEFF STRATTON

According to an FBI press release and US court documents, a Miami firm called LatiNode offered bribes to Honduran government officials connected with Hondutel. As much as $500,000 was given to at least three Honduran officials. Granados was the founder and CEO of LatiNode.

Another defendant, Manuel Caceres, is a Honduran citizen living legally in Miami and working for LatiNode. After winning an exclusive contract with Hondutel in 2005, LatiNode learned it would have to substantially lower its rates or risk losing the contract. Not long afterward, according to the indictment, a LatiNode memo sent to Caceres said doing business with Hondutel would be difficult “because we know they expect something under the table.”

So the two decided to bribe Honduran officials, including a senior Hondutel executive, a Hondutel attorney, and a government minister. Those officials told LatiNode where to start depositing the bribe money. By 2006, cash started flowing from Miami banks to Central American bank accounts. The deposits continued through 2007, when Granados ordered LatiNode’s IT dude to remove any reference to Hondutel from the company’s e-mail servers.

Granados was arrested in 2010, and as part of his recent plea agreement, faces between 135-168 months in prison.

Caceres is looking at 87-108 months’ imprisonment.