Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández Faces Questions in Drug Trial’s Wake
He obtained briefcases full of money. He held clandestine conferences with drug traffickers in a rice manufacturing unit. He sought to take a position in a cocaine lab. He vowed to flood the US with medication. And he did all of this whereas pursuing the very best workplace in Honduras.
These have been among the accusations made about President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras in a federal courtroom in New York this month.
Mr. Hernández, who has repeatedly denied any affiliation with drug traffickers, was not standing trial in the case and has not been charged with any crimes. Slightly, Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez, a Honduran citizen, was the defendant; he was convicted on Monday on all counts, together with conspiracy to site visitors cocaine and arms possession.
However proof offered in courtroom over two weeks offered a searing evaluation of the president, whose authorities’s failure to construct a lawful state and a sturdy economic system has helped drive tons of of 1000’s of despairing residents to to migrate in current years, with most making an attempt to succeed in the US.
The trial added to the rising mound of proof gathered by federal prosecutors in current years that casts Mr. Hernández as a key participant in Honduras’ drug-trafficking business. The proceedings led analysts to consider that formal expenses in opposition to Mr. Hernández himself will not be distant.
“It’s yet one more nail in his coffin,” mentioned Eric L. Olson, director of coverage on the Seattle Worldwide Basis and an skilled on Latin America. “However greater than what this implies for Juan Orlando, this sends one other message to the individuals of Honduras that there’s no future for them, and what’s the purpose of hanging round?”
The swirl of corruption allegations round Mr. Hernández has been constructing for years.
In 2017, worldwide observers documented many irregularities in his election to a second time period, prompting weeks of violent protests across the nation. The opposition mentioned he shouldn’t have been on the poll in the primary place, arguing that Mr. Hernández had unfairly stacked the Supreme Courtroom together with his supporters, who then lifted the nation’s constitutional ban on re-election.
Extra lately, federal prosecutors in the US have sought to point out that the president constructed a symbiotic relationship with drug traffickers who offered monetary help for his political ascent in return for cover from prosecution.
In 2019, Mr. Hernández featured as an unnamed however plainly identifiable “co-conspirator” in the prosecution of his brother, Tony Hernández, who was convicted in federal courtroom in New York on drug trafficking expenses and is scheduled to be sentenced subsequent week.
The accusations made by American authorities attorneys over time have made for a jarring distinction with the US’ continued political help for Mr. Hernández, who has forged himself as a prepared accomplice in the hassle to stem the circulation of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border.
In testimony through the trial this month, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, who as soon as ran a violent drug gang referred to as Los Cachiros, testified that in 2012 he gave $250,000 in money to Mr. Hernández — transferring it by the use of the president’s sister, Hilda Hernández — in change for the promise that he wouldn’t be arrested and extradited to the US. Mr. Hernández, on the time, was operating for his occasion’s presidential nomination.
One other witness, a Honduran accountant who testified underneath the pseudonym José Sánchez, mentioned he witnessed Mr. Hernández accepting bribes from Mr. Fuentes and negotiating entry to the drug trafficker’s cocaine lab throughout conferences on the workplaces of Graneros Nacionales, the most important rice producer in Honduras.
“I couldn’t consider what I used to be watching,” Mr. Sánchez mentioned of an encounter in 2013, when Mr. Hernández was operating for president on his occasion’s ticket. “I used to be trying on the presidential candidate assembly with a drug trafficker.”
Mr. Sánchez mentioned that in these conferences, Mr. Hernández was twice given bribes of money stuffed into briefcases, one with $15,000 and the opposite with $10,000. The accountant mentioned he was personally answerable for counting the money: $20 payments wrapped in rubber bands.
Mr. Sánchez, who fled the nation and is looking for asylum in the US, additionally mentioned he heard Mr. Hernández guarantee Mr. Fuentes that he deliberate to cancel the extradition treaty with the U.S., making his associates “untouchable.”
“He then took a sip of his drink,” Mr. Sánchez mentioned of Mr. Hernández. “And he mentioned, ‘We’re going to stuff the medication up the gringos’ noses, they usually’re by no means even going to realize it.’”
A prosecutor mentioned throughout closing statements that the connection between Mr. Fuentes and Mr. Hernández was so essential to each males that Mr. Fuentes continued bribing the president in change for cover as late as 2019.
The proof offered at trial, and the “readiness” of prosecutors “to explicitly allude to his culpability, means that Hernández could be very a lot in the federal government’s sights,” mentioned Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia Regulation Faculty.
Mr. Hernández has denied the allegations of corruption and has argued that the testimony in the Fuentes case, as in the trial of his brother, got here from unreliable witnesses who have been making an attempt to punish him for his efforts to scrub Honduras of drug trafficking. Moments after the jury returned its verdict on Monday, he took to Twitter to defend himself, citing what he referred to as an “unprecedented 95 % discount” in drug trafficking throughout Honduras.
The trial performed out in Honduras in opposition to the backdrop of presidential and congressional campaigns which have additional underscored the diploma to which corruption riddles the political system.
A number of candidates who competed in primaries on March 14 have been underneath investigation for or suspected of corruption. And although the votes are nonetheless being tallied, the front-runner to be the nominee for the Liberal Celebration, certainly one of Honduras’ two most important political events, was launched from a U.S. jail final August after serving three years for a cash laundering conviction.
Mr. Fuentes’s brother, Cristhian Josué Fuentes Ramírez, whom prosecutors have additionally accused of drug trafficking, is operating for Congress.
However corruption is so embedded in society, and Mr. Hernández so extensively despised by Hondurans, that the newest allegations in opposition to him will almost certainly have little impression, analysts mentioned.
“One would assume he’d be crippled by these allegations, however there have been so many shadows over the legitimacy of his presidency and he’s nonetheless been capable of maintain the workplace,” mentioned Charles Name, an affiliate professor of peace and battle decision at American College in Washington.
Following the decision this week, Hondurans expressed a way of fatigue, and widespread cynicism that something would change.
“We don’t stay in a state of legislation,” mentioned Edwin Kelly, 35, an information analyst from La Ceiba who lamented “the ability of the narco-president.”
The most recent revelations may, although, drive much more migrants to move north.
There are lots of causes extra Honduras have been leaving in current years, amongst them insecurity and poverty, mentioned Mr. Olson, of the Seattle Worldwide Basis.
“However there’s a meta-story, which is the failure of presidency,” he mentioned “We have to give the individuals of Central America a way of hope. And that begins with combating corruption and ending this ridiculous theft of Hondurans’ future.”
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