New York, United States –

Former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez goes on trial in New York on Tuesday charged with drug trafficking, including the transfer of 500 tons of cocaine through his country to the United States.

The 55-year-old Hernandez was brought to the United States in April 2022 to answer charges that he aided the smuggling of hundreds of tons of cocaine to America in return for millions of dollars in bribes from drug traffickers.

He will go on trial alone in Manhattan’s Southern District federal court after his two co-defendants, former Honduran police chief Juan Carlos “Tiger” Bonilla and ex-policeman Mauricio Hernandez, pleaded guilty in recent days to drug trafficking.

Their pleas, and any cooperation with the US authorities, will likely pile pressure on Hernandez to cut a deal with prosecutors and also plead.

As president, Hernandez worked closely with the administration of former president Donald Trump, winning Washington’s praise for his government’s work in drug seizures and the fight against organized crime.

“He arrested people who had no ties to him, but he protected others,” former DEA agent Mikel Vigil told AFP.

Hernandez was extradited to the United States in April 2022, shortly after handing power to his successor, leftist Xiomara Castro.

If found guilty of the three charges against him, conspiracy to traffic drugs and two counts of trafficking and possession of weapons, Hernandez could die behind bars.

He has insisted he is innocent. “I am the victim of a vendetta and a conspiracy by organized crime and political enemies,” he wrote in a public letter sent from prison in New York and published on X, formerly Twitter, by his wife.

– ‘Victim of revenge’? –
Hernandez would follow in the footsteps of other former Latin American heads of state convicted in the United States, like Panama’s Manuel Noriega in 1992 and Guatemala’s Alfonso Portillo in 2014.

Last year, Mexico’s former homeland security minister Genaro Garcia Luna, the highest-ranking Mexican official to face a US trial, was found guilty of drug trafficking by a New York court. His sentencing is set for June 24.

Hernandez, whose 2014 to 2022 stint as president was plagued by allegations of corruption, faces life in prison if found guilty.

He is accused of having facilitated the smuggling of some 500 tons of cocaine — mainly from Colombia and Venezuela — to the United States via Honduras since 2004, starting long before his presidency.

US prosecutors say Hernandez turned Honduras into a “narco-state” by involving the military, police and civilians in drug trafficking.

Hernandez used the drug money to enrich himself and finance his political campaign and commit electoral fraud in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections, the indictment alleges.

Several drug traffickers have told US prosecutors they paid bribes to Hernandez’s inner circle. By the time he left office, DEA agents were ready to move against him.

His family claims he is the “victim of revenge by the drug traffickers he himself had extradited or forced to flee to the United States.”


© Agence France-Presse


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