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Honduras: Foiling a Coup

3 minute read

The FBI springs a trap

The conspirators had met with the assassin two dozen times over the past two months. They had paid him $100,000, plus $20,000 in expense fees, and promised him $200,000 more after the deed was done. His mission: kill Roberto Suazo Cordova, 57, President of Honduras, before mid-November. During the civil chaos that would presumably follow the assassination, the plotters intended to seize control of the Central American state. There was one catch: unknown to them, the hired assassin was working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The bureau sprang its trap last week, arresting eight of the nine conspirators in Miami. The ninth surrendered to authorities at week’s end in Santiago, Chile. The ringleader of the operation was Gerard Latchinian, 46, who is said to have been one of the wealthiest men in Honduras. He is known among the Honduran military as “the ambassador of death,” a nickname he acquired as one of the region’s major arms dealers.

The co-conspirators include Latchinian’s brother Jerome, 48; Faiz Sikaffy, 48, a Honduran businessman who claims that the Suazo government has frozen $7.7 million of his assets; Manuel Binker, 48, a Cuban exile who operates auto-body shops in Miami; José Zimmerman, a Vero Beach, Fla., pilot; and Major General José Bueso Rosa, a Honduran military attache in Santiago.

At a press conference after the arrests, FBI Spokesman Joseph Corliss said the bureau learned of the plot in July from an unnamed “cooperating witness.” The informant introduced FBI Special Agent Eduardo M. Sanchez to the plotters, who hired him as the assassin. In addition to a $300,000 fee and 22 lbs. of cocaine, the conspirators promised Sanchez weapons, night-vision equipment, explosives, tanks, airplanes and miscellaneous military ordnance for the proposed coup. The agent was instructed to hire four other hitmen to help carry out the assassination.

The plotters hoped to finance the operation with the proceeds from an illegal 763-lb. shipment of cocaine flown last week from Colombia to a remote landing strip in southern Florida. The FBI seized the cocaine (wholesale value: $10.3 million) four days before the arrests. According to bureau sources, two other recent Florida drug hauls were also related to the Suazo plot.

The motive for seeking to overthrow Suazo remains in doubt, but law-enforcement sources speculate that the conspirators wanted to reinstate General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, who was deposed last spring as armed forces commander and de facto leader of the country by the current regime. Bueso Rosa, the former Honduran Army Chief of Staff, was demoted and sent to Chile after Alvarez’s deposal.

The two men are known to be close friends, but Alvarez, who now lives in exile in Tampa, denied knowledge of the conspiracy.

In the meantime the FBI, suffering from a spate of bad publicity—the acquittal of Auto Magnate John De Lorean on drug-trafficking charges, revelations that the bureau had been slow to detect alleged espionage by one of its counterintelligence officers—was elated by the Honduran coup busting. “We want to make it clear that the full resources of the FBI will be devoted to preventing terrorist acts like those disclosed today,” said Director William Webster. At his family farm 50 miles outside Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, President Suazo was being guarded by 800 Honduran soldiers.

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