No sooner had he left the presidency of Honduras, three months ago, than Juan Orlando Hernandez appeared this Friday, April 22 before a judge in New York. He is accused of having facilitated the trafficking of 500 tons of cocaine between Central America and the United States. The former head of state, who had served two terms since 2014, was ousted from power by the election victory of left-wing candidate Xiomara Castro at the end of January. Suspected of criminal activities dating back to 2004, when he was still a deputy, his extradition had been awaited since his arrest on February 15.
Accused of importing cocaine into the United States and possessing several firearms, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Juan Orlando Hernandez has “abused his position as president of Honduras to operate the country as a narco-state”. Concretely, he would have received millions of dollars in bribes from influential cartel bosses, such as El Chapo, leader of the Mexican Sinaloa cartel.
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In exchange for this money, the drug traffickers received legal protection, access to national police resources and confidential army information. He would then have used the funds received to increase his personal fortune but also to finance his electoral campaigns in 2013 and 2017. Manhattan prosecutor Damian Williams explained to the press how accomplices of President Hernandez bribed local officials to manipulate votes in his favour.
A systemic problem
During his two terms, Juan Orlando Hernandez presented himself as an ally of the United States in the fight against drug trafficking. It appears that his criminal activities are just a symptom of a larger corruption problem in Honduras. The former president’s brother, ex-MP Juan Antonio Hernandez (aka “Tony”) was sentenced to life in March 2021 on the same charges. In a press conference Thursday, April 21, the president of the Honduran congress, Luis Redondo, did not rule out the idea that other deputies or officials of the Hernandez government could be extradited for drug trafficking.
US Federal Judge Stewart Aaron will listen to defense attorneys for the former president. In a video posted by his wife on Twitter, Juan Orlando Hernandez proclaimed his innocence. He said to be “victim of revenge and conspiracy” from drug traffickers. He also criticizes a treatment “unfair” from the United States.