US embassy cable - 03TEGUCIGALPA1559

EMBASSY HIGHLIGHTS INADEQUATE PORT SECURITY AT PUERTO CORTES; GOH FINALLY ADDRESSING ISSUE

Identifier: 03TEGUCIGALPA1559
Wikileaks: View 03TEGUCIGALPA1559 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Tegucigalpa
Created: 2003-07-02 16:39:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PTER SNAR ETRD PGOV PREL ELAB EAGR EWWT HO
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TEGUCIGALPA 001559 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR EB, PM, INL, S/CT, WHA/PPC, AND WHA/CEN 
PANAMA FOR CUSTOMS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/02/2013 
TAGS: PTER, SNAR, ETRD, PGOV, PREL, ELAB, EAGR, EWWT, HO 
SUBJECT: EMBASSY HIGHLIGHTS INADEQUATE PORT SECURITY AT 
PUERTO CORTES; GOH FINALLY ADDRESSING ISSUE 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Larry Palmer; 
reasons 1.5(b) and (d). 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  On June 14, 2003, Honduras Desk Officer and 
PolOff met with Puerto Cortes Superintendent Antonio Cruz to 
discuss the problematic security situation at the port. 
Puerto Cortes is both the largest port in Honduras and on the 
Caribbean coast of Central America.  Port officials 
acknowledged the lack of security and cited insufficient 
resources as the major impediment to compliance with the new 
U.S. Maritime Transportation Security Act, which requires 
ports exporting cargo to the U.S. to meet specific security 
standards and International Maritime Organization (IMO) 
regulations.  Current security procedures at the port are 
virtually non-existent.  During the meeting and a subsequent 
impromptu press conference, DeskOff underscored the 
importance of complying with new U.S. security regulations 
and emphasized that the onus is on Hondurans to make the 
necessary changes.  Minister of the Presidency Luis Cosenza 
has designated Presidential Advisor Mauro Membreno as the GOH 
point person on this issue.  END SUMMARY. 
 
DeskOff/PolOff Meet with Puerto Cortes Superintendent 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
 
2.  (C)  On June 14, 2003, WHA/CEN Desk Officer for Honduras 
and PolOff met with Puerto Cortes Superintendent Antonio Cruz 
and Vice Manager Fermin Boquin to discuss the problematic 
security situation at the port.  Port officials acknowledged 
the lack of security and cited insufficient resources as the 
major impediment to compliance with the new U.S. Maritime 
Transportation Security Act, which requires ports exporting 
cargo to the U.S. to meet specific security standards and IMO 
regulations.  More worrisome, current security procedures at 
the port are virtually non-existent.  During the meeting and 
subsequent impromptu press conference, DeskOff underscored 
the importance of complying with new U.S. security 
regulations and emphasized that the onus is on Hondurans to 
make the necessary changes. U.S.-donated counternarcotics 
canines, costing USD 35,000 apiece, are not currently being 
used to inspect outbound cargoes, and port managers were 
unable to enumerate in detail the specific procedures for 
inspecting containers.  A Power Point presentation delivered 
by port officials offered a laundry list of resources needed 
for compliance, implying that the U.S. should fund these 
requests.  When asked whether the U.S. was planning to fund 
the security modifications, DeskOff indicated that the U.S. 
would offer support of some kind but that the nature of the 
support had not yet been determined. 
 
3.  (SBU)  Puerto Cortes is both the largest port in Honduras 
and on the Caribbean coast of Central America.  It provides 
port services to companies from Guatemala, El Salvador and 
Nicaragua, while serving as a distribution and manufacturing 
site for the surrounding agricultural regions from which over 
1,800,000 containers on more than 1,700 ships were 
transported in 2002.  Puerto Cortes can dock up to ten 
vessels at once.  More than 1,000 ships travel from Puerto 
Cortes to the U.S. annually, and many others travel to 
Europe, Africa and South America.  Puerto Cortes yielded 
revenues of approximately USD 81.4 million in 2002. 
 
GOH Expresses Concern over Inadequate Port Security 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 
4.  (SBU)  The unacceptable port security situation in Puerto 
Cortes finally captured the attention of the most senior 
levels of the Maduro government in late May.  Minister of the 
Presidency Luis Cosenza met with EmbOffs to ask for U.S. 
assistance in addressing the problem.  His request came in 
the wake of a sobering preliminary assessment (which included 
an estimated USD 1-3 million price tag for the minimum 
security improvements to meet the new legal requirements) 
from a private U.S. port security consultant who works with 
the International Maritime Organization.  Cosenza's request 
and designation of Presidential Advisor Mauro Membreno as the 
GOH point person on this issue are encouraging signs that the 
GOH is finally going to treat this issue as high priority. 
 
GOH Slow to Act But Headed in Right Direction 
--------------------------------------------- 
 
5.  (C)  Comment:  Cosenza and Membreno's willingness to take 
control of the issue is a very welcome sign of the serious 
political will needed to tackle this difficult issue. 
Membreno's reputation as a highly capable and well-connected 
political fixer renders him a good choice for the position. 
At the same time, Membreno is regarded as a charter member of 
the dark side of the Nationalist Party.  He will need those 
credentials in order to tackle vested interests within his 
own party, such as Vice President Diaz Lobo, and the port 
labor union if the GOH is to make the necessary changes for 
Puerto Cortes to be certified under the new U.S. Maritime 
Transportation Security Act.  The GOH finally seems to 
understand that fixing the port's security is not as simple 
as getting U.S. Customs to open an office at Puerto Cortes. 
This is critical since the new U.S. law will impose a 
complete shutoff of shipping to the U.S. from any port that 
is not certified by July 1, 2004.  End Comment. 
Palmer 

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