Honduran ex-leader accused of leading narco-state

Connie Queline

Honduran ex-leader accused of leading narco-state

Reuters

The former president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, has appeared in a New York courtroom where he stands accused of protecting drug traffickers.

Prosecutors say he ran the Central American nation like a “narco-state”, accepting millions of dollars in bribes from cocaine traffickers.

In exchange, he allegedly tipped them off about planned raids and even ordered the army to protect them.

Mr Hernández has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

He is facing three charges: one of conspiring to import cocaine to the US and two of carrying weapons “in furtherance of the cocaine importation conspiracy”.

If convicted of all three, he could face life in prison.

Mr Hernández’s fall from grace has been swift.

In 2019, then President Donald Trump thanked Juan Orlando Hernández for “working with the United States very closely”.

“We’re stopping drugs at a level that has never happened,” the US president said at an event both he and Mr Hernández attended in Florida.

Mr Hernández in turn thanked President Trump and the American people “for the support they have given us in the firm fight against drug trafficking”.

“My commitment has been clear… we purged the police, we built maximum security prisons, we managed to pass many laws to strengthen the legal framework for the fight against organised crime and the results are tangible: in six years we have dropped from 87% of drug trafficking through Honduran territory to only 3%,” Mr Hernández.

Just over two years later – and only weeks after he had left office – Mr Hernández was arrested at his home in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.

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In his indictment, he was accused by US prosecutors as having “partnered with some of the world’s most prolific narcotics traffickers to build a corrupt and brutally violent empire based on the illegal trafficking of tonnes of cocaine to the United States”.

He was quickly extradited to New York, where he has been in held in pre-trial detention.

Prosecutors allege his links with drug trafficking date back to 2004, long before he became president.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez Alvarado addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, U.S., September 22, 2021

Reuters

They say drug traffickers paid Mr Hernández millions of dollars in bribes to allow cocaine to be smuggled from Colombia and Venezuela through Honduras on to the US.

Among the drug traffickers Juan Orlando Hernández is accused of protecting is his younger brother Tony, who was sentenced in 2012 to life in prison by a court in the US.

In one of the most eye-catching allegations made during the trial of the younger Hernández, prosecutors alleged that Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán had given Tony Hernández $1m (£792,400) as a bribe for Juan Orlando Hernández.

The ex-president has vehemently denied the allegations, stating in a public letter he sent from prison that he is “the victim of a vendetta and a conspiracy by organised crime and political enemies”.

The judge in the case said the trial was likely to take two to three weeks.

Related Topics

  • Juan Orlando Hernandez
  • Honduras
  • Drugs trade

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