As US-led counter-trafficking operations have squeezed cartels to the south in Colombia and the north in Mexico, the drug gangs have turned to the country as an alternative staging post.

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The average payload is worth much more than the plane itself.

While the drug dealers get rich, ordinary Hondurans suffer - not that many of those in the areas plagued by gangs are willing to speak out.

Last week, The Telegraph obtained photographs from a recent military operation in La Mosquitia that illustrate the scale of that challenge.

The pictures show airstrips cut out of the jungle by bulldozer and the lights and lamps used for night-time landings.

But they have also imported their ruthless rivalries.

Senior Honduran military personnel privately acknowledge that they are waging a losing battle against the vastly better-resourced "narcos" – despite the backing of the US Drug Enforcement Agency.

"He gave them everything he had, but still they killed him," Mr Rivera said, his voice breaking.

"It doesn't matter to the gangs where you live or die. It's just so terrible to see someone you love so much taken away for a few cents." Such accounts are depressingly quotidian for Hondurans.

The police were too scared, too ill-equipped, too inefficient and often too complicit in gang crime to venture there.